February is American Heart Month

Image of a collage of healthy fruits, vegetables and grains along with a blood pressure monitor and exercise dumbbells

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s quite a statistic, one not to be taken lightly. Perhaps the first thing to understand about heart disease is that there are different kinds. When you read or hear about “heart disease,” what’s technically being described or referred to is a range of conditions that affect the heart. This range includes coronary artery disease (CAD) aka coronary heart disease aka ischemic heart disease; heart arrhythmias; heart valve disease; heart failure; pericardial disease; cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease); and congenital heart disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, according to the CDC.

People may be more prone to a certain kind of heart disease due to an underlying health condition. For example, if a person has high cholesterol, this may lead to plaque buildup inside their blood vessels, called atherosclerosis. When atherosclerosis affects your coronary arteries, you may develop coronary artery disease. This is because when your heart doesn’t get an ample blood supply, it becomes weaker and doesn’t function the way it is supposed to. Sometimes, this can lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

It’s important to note that when atherosclerosis affects the arteries in your legs and arms, defined as peripheral artery disease or PAD, this still poses a potential health danger and puts you at an increased risk for developing coronary artery disease, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke.

But it’s not all bad news! Heart disease, to a certain extent, may be preventable. One of the best ways, if not the best way, to increase your chances of preventing heart issues is by living in a healthy way. Some key suggestions of how to do this are below: 

  • Exercising regularly.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked periodically (check with your physician on how often).
  • Watch your diet. Make sure to choose low-fat, low-sodium heart-healthy meals, which include lots of leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains (like brown rice), and protein-rich foods, including fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (think salmon and tuna). Also, eggs, legumes, nuts, and oils and foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good to nosh on.

It’s also important to note what foods to limit (or avoid altogether). These include sodium, added sugars and saturated fats.

Everyone’s body is different, and practicing healthy living may mean different things to different people and may be more important for some than others, but there is really no downside to pursuing a more healthy lifestyle, so why not start now? A good place to begin is by visiting your doctor, getting a physical and learning what could help your particular body function optimally.

This information is for educational purposes. Please consult your physician for any medical issues. The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is committed to bringing trusted and quality home health, private care and hospice to Indian River County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 772-494-6161 or visit www.vnatc.com.

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