Heart Disease: Dealing Day-to-Day
The term heart disease is generally used to refer to a more specific condition called coronary artery disease (CAD), a chronic disease in which the coronary arteries gradually harden and narrow. If you have this condition, know that effective strategies exist to help control it. Changes in lifestyle and health practices can reduce the speed at which atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or other heart-related problems develop.Some of the most common strategies for living with CAD and slowing its progression include:
1- Learning your family medical history -- and learning from it
Family medical history can greatly increase (or decrease) the risk of developing certain medical conditions, including coronary artery disease and related problems such as heart attack and stroke. Some people develop a medical family tree and bring it with them to their doctor. A complete family tree traces a family's medical history through several generations and can help you and your doctor assess your health risks and determine what steps may help you stay healthier longer.
42- Eating a heart-healthy diet
Research supports the idea that health is affected by diet. The fiber, vitamins and minerals found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been shown to be helpful to heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently recommended that dietary fiber intake be between 25 and 30 grams daily.
In contrast, saturated fat, trans fat and hydrogenated oils have been shown to be particularly harmful because they can speed up the development of coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis and obesity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently began requiring that food companies list the amount of trans fat, in addition to the levels of saturated fat and overall fat, in the nutritional information on product labels.
3- Improving your cholesterol ratio
Your total cholesterol level (which includes LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides) should be no more than 200 milligrams per deciliter and no more than five times your HDL level. To reduce levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, eat a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly. If these strategies do not reduce total cholesterol levels, a doctor may prescribe cholesterol-reducing drugs. Strategies for increasing levels of HDL cholesterol include eating monounsaturated fats in moderation, decreasing saturated fat intake, limiting alcohol use and starting an exercise program.
4- Controlling homocysteine levels
High homocysteine levels have been linked to artery damage, which may increase risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems. Researchers are currently trying to determine whether high homocysteine levels are an actual cause of those conditions or are simply associated with them for some other reason. The AHA recommends testing homocysteine blood levels in people with known risk factors for heart disease (e.g., a family history of heart disease).
A heart-healthy diet providing recommended allowances of three important B vitamins ‑- B6, B12 and folic acid ‑- can help maintain healthful levels of homocysteine. Food sources high in these B vitamins include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fortified grain products.
Experts do not currently advocate routine supplement intake by people with CAD because vitamin and mineral supplements can cause other problems; folate supplements, for example, may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency or increase the risk of artery renarrowing following revascularization procedures such as balloon angioplasty and stenting. You should speak with your physician about whether a particular supplement is indicated.
5- Exercising regularly
Exercise is an excellent tool for both controlling heart disease and improving quality of life. It can slow or even reverse the process of atherosclerosis as well as lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Further, it can reduce levels of stress and depression. You should consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.
6- Controlling diabetes
People with diabetes may be more likely to develop heart-related diseases and more likely, once they have them, to suffer vascular damage at an accelerated rate. To prevent this as much as possible, it is important for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels with diet and/or medication.
7- Controlling high blood pressure
Individuals with high blood pressure (hypertension) are at greater risk of CAD and faster progression of the condition. Hypertension can be controlled with medications; self-monitoring; a heart-healthy, low-salt diet; and regular exercise. If you have high blood pressure, you should see your doctor regularly in order to have it monitored.
8- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for and promoter of a host of serious health conditions, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Some weight control methods include limiting dietary fat, increasing activity levels, counseling, medication and surgical interventions.
9- Managing stress
Some people react to stress in unhealthy ways, such as by overeating and smoking. And chronic stress by itself may be a direct contributor to poor heart health because it produces increases in blood pressure that could become permanent.
10- Quitting smoking or not starting
Tobacco smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease and cardiac arrest. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that heart disease is the leading smoking-related cause of death in the United States among men and women and that tobacco use is the chief preventable cause of death. The CDC also states that, if they smoke, both middle-aged males and females triple their risk of death from heart disease.
11- Controlling chronic depression
Depression has been linked with a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease and with having a heart attack.
These strategies may help to preserve health and prolong life, and are particularly important for those of advanced age and those with a family history of heart disease to add to their own history. Even someone who has suffered a cardiac event such as a heart attack can reduce the risk of having another one by changing unhealthy behaviors and stopping all high-risk activities.
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