Heart disease is currently the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and costs the country about $1 billion per day. If you're concerned about your heart, you have the power to protect your health.
According to the American Heart Association, about 80% of heart disease is preventable. Routine exams and screenings can let you know whether you're at risk for cardiovascular problems. If you already have heart disease, it's not too late to take action. The right treatment can extend your lifespan and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Learn more about what you can do to keep your heart healthy.
What is Heart Disease?
The term "heart disease" describes a variety of conditions that affect your heart. Some forms of heart disease are congenital or have been present since birth. Other types develop later in life. Heart disease can affect people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.
All adults should talk to their doctor about regular heart disease screenings. Routine screenings can identify possible heart problems and risk factors. In some cases, your doctor may also perform specialized cardiac tests. These tests and screening tools help your doctor diagnose heart problems earlier.
What are Some Common Heart Problems?
Heart problems can include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Heart failure
- Valvular heart disease
- Aortic aneurysms
- Heart infections
When diagnosed early, CAD is often treatable. Unfortunately, many people with CAD don't realize they have it. CAD doesn't always cause symptoms so that it can go unnoticed for many years. Without treatment, CAD often leads to a heart attack or stroke.
What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
In the early stages, heart disease often has no symptoms. Some people may notice slight shortness of breath or dull chest pain, while others may tire quickly. But signs can be subtle and hard to see. Many people with heart disease assume they're just getting older. They often fail to report their symptoms to their doctor.
As heart disease progresses, it can cause:
- Pain in jaw, neck, or shoulder
- Numbness or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fluttering in the chest
- Grayish or bluish skin
- Swelling in legs, abdomen, or face
The sooner your heart disease is detected, the better the outcome. Keep an eye out for any changes in your body or energy levels. If you notice a new symptom, contact your doctor right away. They can determine whether this symptom is a sign of heart disease.
Who is at Risk for Heart Disease?
Anyone can develop heart disease, but men are generally at higher risk throughout their life. In women, the risk of heart disease increases after menopause. Both men and women are more likely to experience heart problems after age 65.
Many people with heart disease have a family history of heart problems. You're more likely to have heart disease if one of your parents had it. Be sure to let your doctor know if anyone in your family has experienced a heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your risk of heart problems as well. Leading a healthy lifestyle helps keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, but genetic factors can sometimes raise blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Tell your doctor if you have family members with these conditions. You might need to take medication to lower your risk of heart disease.
Smoking, obesity, and poor diet significantly increase your risk of heart problems. Improving your lifestyle can help keep your heart healthy. Your doctor can offer guidance on weight loss and smoking cessation.
How Is Heart Disease Treated?
If you're diagnosed with heart disease, your primary care doctor may send you to a cardiologist. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in heart problems. They can help you develop a heart disease treatment plan.
There are many forms of heart disease, and each one requires specialized care. Your cardiologist can review your options.
Medication often improves your heart function and prevents health problems. Lifestyle changes can also cut your risk of heart disease, but if you have a life-threatening heart problem, your cardiologist may suggest surgery. Heart surgery helps clear blockages and clots from your arteries. It can also repair damage caused by an injury or infection.
After surgery, you may need to spend some time in a rehabilitation facility. The rehab team can help you regain your strength and mobility.
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