The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than one quarter of all deaths are caused by heart disease alone. However, despite its often-deadly effects, heart disease does not have the high profile of cancer, AIDS and other terminal diseases. This means that many people with heart disease either do not realize they have the condition, or do not seek treatment for early warning signs. While many think that heart disease primarily affects men or the elderly, women are just as likely to suffer from heart disease as men. In fact, approximately 10 percent of women age 45-64 suffer from the disease.
Geeta Maharaj, nursing director at Everest College’s Salt Lake City campus explains that you don’t have to be in nursing school to know there are many things you can do to reduce the likelihood of having heart-related health problems. “One of the most important is simply to learn about how your life choices affect your heart’s health,” adds Maharaj.
The major risk factors for heart disease are inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. In 2005-2006, the Center for Disease Control reported that 37 percent of Americans had two or more of these risk factors, potentially increasing their chances of contracting heart disease.
However, approximately one half (47 percent) of deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrests happen outside of hospitals, which suggests that many people who are suffering from heart disease go undiagnosed, or are not seeking treatment.
Medical research has shown that lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels can reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack, needing heart bypass surgery, and dying from heart disease. Even for those who are currently healthy, lowering cholesterol can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. “It is important to know the risk factors for heart disease and talk to your doctor about how to reduce the likelihood of suffering from a heart attack or cardiac arrest,” says Maharaj.
Even if you are not at risk for heart disease, Darlene Mention, RN, MSN, CCRN, nursing instructor at Everest University’s nursing program in Brandon, Fla., suggests taking the following steps to improve overall heart health.
First, exercise. Your heart is a muscle, and just like your other muscles, it needs to be worked out regularly. Mention recommends that you get at least a half an hour of cardio at least five times a week.
Second, Mention suggests maintaining a healthy weight, and trying to lose extra pounds if possible. Obesity is one of the primary causes of heart disease, and is often linked to other risk factors such as having high cholesterol or being inactive.
Improving your diet can also help you lower your cholesterol and promote overall health. As a rule of thumb, Mention explains that your diet should include five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Two servings of certain fish, such as salmon, trout or mackerel a week can also promote heart health. These fish are full of fats that replenish needed oils. However, you should limit your consumption of saturated fats, which are found in full-fat dairy products, many red meats, fries and other cooking fats.
Similarly, Mention advises cutting back on salt. She explains that the recommended daily allowance is 2,300 milligrams of salt for adults, and less than 1,500 milligrams for middle-aged and older adults with elevated blood pressure. It is important to check food labels, as many processed foods have high levels of sodium. While some studies have suggested that drinking a glass of red wine at dinner may reduce the likelihood of heart attacks, in general, moderation is the key to alcohol consumption. The recommended daily limit of alcohol is three to four servings for men, and two to three for women.
In addition, Mention explains that if you are serious about your heart health, you should quit smoking. Smoking dramatically increases the likelihood of contracting heart disease. Studies have shown that female smokers are three times as likely to have a heart attack before the age of 40 than are non-smokers.
It is also important to learn the early warning signs of heart disease, which include nausea, indigestion, back pain, dizziness, fatigue, and chest pain, as early action can make a huge difference in treatment. Finally, Mention recommends that you talk to your doctor or a licensed nurse about potential preventive measures you can take, if you are at risk for contracting heart disease.