February News: Heart Health

Heart Health Is Top Priority

Taking Care of your heart health is top priority. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for people – young and old- so it’s particularly important to care for your heart.

Woman and dog in matching red jackets walking in snow after winter storm.

Make healthy changes to avoid heart disease. Exercise and watch what you eat. Don’t smoke.

Make Healthy Changes To Prevent Heart Disease

One – Eat Well
You may have heard it before, but a diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins and fats are simple changes you can make to help protect your heart health. Limit sodium and replace saturated fats and processed food with unsaturated fats such as olive oil.

Two – Maintain A Healthy Weight
Being overweight is linked to heart disease, stroke, hypertension and high cholesterol.

Three – Stand Up and Get Moving
Engage in activities that get your heart rate up during the day. Take the stairs. Walk your pet. Join a group exercise program. Even 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise is beneficial.

Four – Live Smoke Free
Quit smoking or vaping. This will keep your heart in top condition. Several cessation products and support groups are available. Ask your doctor for recommendations.

Senior woman smiling and holding a paper valentine.

Taking care of your heart is top priority.

Five – Catch the Signs Early
Heart attack affects men and women. Call 911 if you experience these symptoms:

  • Chest pain or pressure in the upper part of your body, typically the neck, back and jaw
  • Severe shortness of breath or fatigue
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Cold sweats, nausea, or vomiting

Hypertension: A Silent Killer

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a silent killer because it has no warning signs or symptoms. Long-term, untreated can result in kidney failure, diabetes, heart disease and poor eyesight to name a few.

Your blood pressure is the force your blood exerts against the walls of your blood vessels. Blood pressure is measured with two numbers, the systolic number (top number) and the diastolic number (bottom number). The systolic number measures the pressure when the heart pumps. The diastolic number measures the pressure when the heart rests between beats.

The American Heart Association defines high blood pressure (hypertension):

Senior woman smiling as she consults with female physician at office visit.

Heart attacks men and women alike. Catch the signs early.

  • Normal: Below 120 (systolic pressure) and below 80 mm Hg (diastolic pressure)
  • Elevated: 120 to 129 and below 80 mmHg
  • Stage 1 hypertension: 130 to 139 and 80 to 89 mmHg
  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140 or more and 90 mm Hg or more
  • Emergency: 180 or more and 120 mm Hg or higher

What can I do to control my blood pressure?

One of the most effective ways to reduce your blood pressure is to lose weight. Focus on nutrition. Avoid processed foods and fast foods. Try to get at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week. Don’t use tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs. Manage your stress and get enough sleep.

Your doctor may recommend medication to help lower your blood pressure. There are different kinds of medications to lower blood pressure. You may need to try different ones or use them in combination to avoid side effects.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is often called hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. The arteries give the heart vital oxygen and nutrients. When your body has too much LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque.” As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. When this happens, it’s harder for blood to flow through, potentially causing a clot. If a blood clot forms, it can stop blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.

  • LDL (low density Lipoprotein) – the “BAD” Cholesterol
    • If your LDL is 190 or more, your doctor may suggest a LDL-lowering statin drug and healthy lifestyle choices to avoid heart disease because too much LDL clogs the artery walls.
  • HDL Cholesterol – the “GOOD” Cholesterol
    • HDL takes the bad cholesterol out of your blood. So raise your HDL! Eat more fish. Increase your intake of soluble fiber (beans, legumes, oats, barley, berries). Lose weight. Exercise more.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib or AF, is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart complications. About 2.7 million people are living with atrial fibrillation.

Smiling Asian woman holding a plastic heart shape.

Many people suffer from Atrial fibrillation, called AFib.

Normally the heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, faulty electrical signals in the upper heart chambers called the atria, cause irregular, quivering heart beats. The atria then get out of sync with the ventricles and do not move blood into the ventricles. When blood pools in the atria, a clot can break off. It can enter the bloodstream and lodge in an artery leading to the brain and a stroke results. About 15 to 20 percent of people who have had a stroke, have atrial fibrillation and are treated with “blood thinner” medicines.

There are three main types of blood thinners. Each has a specific function to prevent a blood clot from forming and causing a blocked blood vessel:

  1. Anticoagulants like warfarin or heparin
  2. Antiplatelet drugs like aspirin
  3. Fibrinolytics like tPA (tissue plasminogen activator)

Risk Factors for AFib

  • Advancing age
  • High blood pressure

    AfricanAmericanCouple walking together

    Get moving. Walking is a great exercise for your heart.

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol use
  • European ancestry

Symptoms of AFib

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations (rapid fluttering or pounding)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

    AfricanAmericanCouple walking together

    Exercise helps with weight loss and leads to better heart health.

The 6.5 million people with congestive heart failure do not get enough oxygen-rich to keep their body healthy. Without enough blood flow, organs may not work well which can cause serious problems.

If you have CHF, your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. This means that often blood backs up and fluid can build up in the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, swollen legs and rapid or irregular heartbeat. People with CHF may also have difficulty concentrating and decreased alertness.

Heart failure most often occurs over time. So years of poor lifestyle habits like smoking, eating high-fat foods and lack of exercise can affect heart health in the future.

How Can I Live Better With CHF?

Treatments can include eating less salt (no more than 1,500 to 2,400 mg per day), limiting fluid intake, and taking prescription medications. In some cases, a defibrillator or pacemaker may be implanted.

Aerobic activity for 20-30 minutes 5 days a week improves cardiovascular health. Don’t smoke and if you do, quit! Losing weight can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of complications related to obesity.

Your Heart and Your Emotions

Anger, anxiety, fear, depression and other negative emotions cause the body to release stress hormones that prepare the body to deal with the stress. Stress hormones cause your heart to beat faster, and the blood vessels to narrow to push blood to the center of the body. As a result, your blood pressure goes up. Plus, your blood sugar goes up. These physical reactions are called the “fight or flight” response. This response is reminiscent of prehistoric times when an extra burst of energy was needed to escape predators. When stress subsides, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and heart rate return to normal. In situations where you are living with continued stress, your artery walls can become damaged.

Beatrice character from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

Do feelings of love affect my heart health?

But what about feelings of love? The heart beats faster when you are around the person you love. Do feelings of love, excitement and happiness help or hurt your heart?

Love is thought to produce a sense of calm and peace which translates into lower blood pressure. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family helps you heal quicker after surgery. Having a pet around also helps foster calming, peaceful feelings that are good for the heart. Hugging someone you love releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, which reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure. There have even been some studies that show that writing love letters resulted in a drop in cholesterol as opposed to writing about other random topics.

Holding hands especially with the one you love has a calming effect as has been shown in medical studies of married couples where the female subject was told to expect a mild shock to the ankle. Naturally each woman was anxious. But holding her husband’s hands reduced her brain activity associated with anticipating pain. There’s no doubt that feelings of love are relaxing to the heart.

How To Reduce Stress

  • Take a break. Breathe deep. Exercise.
  • Change surroundings. Listen to music. Cultivate gratitude.
  • Get together with friends. Have a good laugh. Watch a funny movie.

Happy Valentine’s Day from AW Health Care!

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