Understanding Heart Disease

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is any number of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessel system. Most heart disease happens slowly over time. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are common conditions that lead to heart disease.

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease or CAD. Extra fat and cholesterol (called plaque) builds up in the arteries. This build-up attaches to blood vessel walls and makes the vessels thin and hard. It can block blood flow to the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

High blood pressure is another common risk factor for heart disease. Blood pressure that remains too high over time is called hypertension. Hypertension can weaken or tear vessel walls

Risk Factors
Certain things put you at higher risk for heart disease. Some of these risks you cannot control, but some you can.

Other Tips for Your Heart
Other things you can do to help your heart:

  • Stop using tobacco
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Reduce stress

Making lifestyle changes can be hard at first, but living a healthy life gets easier with time.

Baker in his kitchen with breads behind him

Putting it All Together

Managing your heart disease can be hard, but it is worth it! Here's how to put it all together:

  • Eat well and exercise often. Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Ask your doctor to test you for heart disease warning signs. Keep a list of all your results.
  • Take your medications as your doctor prescribes them. Keep a list of what you take, how much, and when you take them.
  • If you use tobacco, quit!

Many people do not know they have heart disease or have any symptoms. Common warning signs include:

  • Pain in your chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling weak or dizzy
  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Rapid or uneven heartbeat

If lifestyle changes aren't enough, your doctor may want you to take medication. Common medicines used to treat heart disease include:

  • Aspirin
  • Statin or cholesterol lowering medicine
  • Beta Blocker
  • ACE Inhibitor

Take your medications exactly as your doctor tells you to, even if you are feeling good. Tell your doctor if you have side effects. Write down a list of all your medications, how much you take and how often you take the medication. Keep this list with you at all times.

Healthy Eating

Eating healthy is very important for your heart health. Foods high in fat, cholesterol, and sugar can cause plaque to build up in your arteries.

Here are some easy and helpful eating tips:

  • Eat more veggies, fruits, and whole grains (such as whole grain bread).
  • Eat smaller portions if you are trying to lose weight.
  • Limit how much fat (mainly saturated fat and trans-fat) you eat.
  • Cut down on foods with a lot of sugar, such as sodas, juices, and desserts.
  • Balance your diet by eating a protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, beans) with each meal.
  • Limit foods high in cholesterol, such as red meat and high-fat dairy products.
  • Choose foods low in salt.

Exercise means moving your body. Exercise makes your heart stronger. It also helps your blood flow more easily.

There are lots of ways to get active:

  • Aerobic exercise uses large muscles (arms and legs) and makes your heart beat faster. Examples are running, fast walking, swimming, bike riding and playing sports. Try for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Strength training helps build muscle. You can use hand weights, elastic bands or weight machines. Or try using items in your home such as soup cans or milk cartons. Try for 3 times a week.
  • Daily activities are things you do during the day to move your body like cleaning the house, playing with the kids, walking the dog or parking further away. Try to find ways to move more during the day.

While exercise is important, be sure to check with your doctor about what types of exercise is safe for you. Some exercises can put too much strain on your heart.

Factors under your control:
  • Tobacco use
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Being very stressed

If you have some of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting tested for warning signs of heart problems.

Factors out of your control:
  • Being a man (women are at risk, too)
  • Aging
  • Having heart disease in the family
  • Being African American or Hispanic