Frequently Asked Questions about the heart and heart disease

Q. What does high blood pressure have to do with heart disease?

Blood pressures is the force your blood makes against the walls of your arteries. The pressure is highest when your heart pumps blood into your arteries when it beats. It is lowest between heartbeats, when your heart relaxes. High blood pressure or hypertension, is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher. Several years of high blood pressure can damage artery walls, causing them to become stiff and narrow. This includes the arteries carrying blood to the heart.

Q. How can I lower my blood pressure?

If you have hypertension or prehypertension, you may be able to lower your blood pressure by:

  • losing weight if you are overweight or obese
  • getting at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity each week
  • limiting alcohol to one drink per day
  • quitting smoking if you smoke
  • reducing stress
  • following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, which includes cutting down on salt and sodium and eating healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and low Ėfat diary products
Q. What does high cholesterol have to do with heart disease?

Cholesterol is waxy substance found in cells in all parts of the body. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries and cause blood clots. Cholesterol can clog your arteries and keep your heart from getting the blood it needs. This can cause a heart attack.

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Low- density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called the "bad" type of cholesterol because it can clog the arteries that carry blood to your heart. For LDL, lower numbers are better.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as "good" cholesterol because it takes the bad cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. For HDL, higher numbers are better.
Q. How can I lower my cholesterol?

You can lower your cholesterol by taking these steps:

Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing weight can lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) to see if you are at a healthy weight.

Eat better. Eat foods low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol.

Eat more:

  • Fish, poultry and lean meats. Broil, bake or roast foods.
  • Skim or low-fat milk, cheeses and low-fat or nonfat yogurt.
  • Fruits and vegetables (try for 5 a day)
  • Cereals, breads, rice and pasta made from whole grains.

Eat less:

  • Organ meats (liver, kidney, brains)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fats (butter, lard) and oils
  • Packaged and processed foods

There are two diets that may help lower your cholesterol:

  • Heart Healthy Diet
  • Therapeutic Lifestyles Changes (TLC) Diet
Q. What are the early warning signs of a heart attack?
It is important to recognize that many people who have had heart attacks had no warning signs at all. This especially concerns people who have diabetes where upwards of 50% percent of heart attacks were not recognized or were not associated with any warning signs. If there are warning signs, they include the following sensations: episodes of chest discomfort, often a squeezing sensation in the center of the chest, sometimes the discomfort is felt in the left arm, especially radiating towards the 5th finger. There can also be numbness in the arm. There can be associated nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating or loss of energy.
Q. One of my family members had a heart attack. Does that mean I will have one too?
If your dad or brother had a heart attack before age 45, or if your mom or sister had one before age 55, youíre more likely to develop heart disease. This does not mean you will have a heart attack. It means you should take extra good care of your heart to keep it healthy.
Q. What is heart disease?
Heart disease includes several problems affecting the heart and blood vessels in the heart. Types of heart disease include:
  • Coronary Artery Disease. (CAD) is the most common type and is the leading cause of heart attacks. When you have CAD, your arteries become hard and narrow. Blood has a hardtime getting to the heart so the heart does not get all the blood it requires. CAD can lead to:
  • Angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that happens when the heart does not get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes the pain is in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. It can also feel like indigestion. Angina is not a heart attack, but having angina means you are more likely to have a heart attack.
  • Heart Attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery is severely or completely blocked and the heart does not get the blood that it needs for more than 20 minutes.
  • Heart Failure. This occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. This means that other organs, which normally get blood from the heart, do not get enough blood. It does not mean that the heart stops. Signs of heart failure include:
    • Shortness of breath (feeling like you canít get enough air)
    • Swelling in feet, ankles and legs
    • Extreme tiredness
  • Heart Arrhythmias. These change in the beat of the heart. Most people have felt dizzy, faint, had chest pain or were out of breath. These changes in heartbeat are harmless for most people.
Q. What can I do to prevent heart disease?
You can reduce your chances of getting heart disease by taking these steps:
  • Know your blood pressure.
  • Donít smoke
  • Eat Healthy
  • Maintain a normal weight.
  • Know your numbers (Blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides) Get them tested.
  • Get tested for diabetes.
  • Find a healthy way to cope with stress
LEARN TO PAUSE ... OR NOTHING WORTHWHILE WILL CATCH UP TO YOU!
 
Dr. Sunit Mukherjee
Associates in Cardiovascular Medicine
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