To help our community understand the importance of maintaining a healthy heart we had a Zoom session on Wednesday, July 14th, 2021, with guest speaker Yasmin Santiago, a health educator with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. Our workshop Maintaining a Healthy Heart covered common heart conditions, risk factors, how to manage our risk levels and more. You can view a recording of this workshop in English and Spanish here.
The following are highlights of our workshop:
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is any disorder that affects the heart’s ability to function normally. Severity and symptoms vary from one person to another. Individuals may experience no symptoms, mild symptoms, or severe symptoms–such as a heart attack or stroke.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death, for men and women, in the United States. One American dies every 38 seconds and stroke is number five.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is the hardening or narrowing of the coronary artery walls. This is caused by deposits of fat and cholesterol blocking, and sometimes stopping, the flow of blood to the heart through the arteries. This is the most common cause of heart disease and happens slowly over time.
What is a heart attack?
The heart is a muscle and its purpose is to bring blood and oxygen to the body.
A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying your heart with blood and oxygen becomes blocked. This typically occurs due to fatty deposit buildup that forms plaque in the heart arteries. If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and blocks your arteries–causing a heart attack.
A heart attack occurs from the waist up.
What are the common signs of a heart attack?
Some people may have symptoms, while others may not.
The common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Jaw pain
If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait. Call 911.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is an interruption of the flow of blood to the brain. Strokes can affect either the left or right side of the body.
There are two types of stroke that occur in different ways:
- Ischemic stroke: occurs when a clot (either a blood clot or plaque) blocks a blood vessel in the brain.
- Hemorrhagic stroke: occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
What are the warning signs of a stroke?
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg–especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no cause (if you are having constant headaches, it’s important to talk to your doctor and possibly receive an MRI to ensure there is no danger)
These warning signs can last for a few minutes or hours. Some people may know right away that they are having a stroke, others may not realize something is wrong until hours or days after having a stroke–usually among individuals who had a mild stroke.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Genetics (family history)
- Unhealthy diet
- Alcohol consumption
- Previous heart attack or stroke
- Sex & age
- Physical activity
Which of these factors are controllable and why are they dangerous?
- Chemicals found in cigarette smoke decrease the amount of oxygen found in the blood.
- Smokers are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers.
- Smokers who have had a heart attack are more likely to die suddenly (within one hour) than are non-smokers.
- High Blood Pressure:
- The heart is a muscle and high blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than normal. Eventually the heart enlarges and weakens.
- High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and atherosclerosis.
- High Blood Cholesterol
- There are two types of cholesterol:
- High density cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
- Low density cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
- What we need in our bodies is the good cholesterol
- High blood cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis
- It has no symptoms and many people have it without knowing. The only way to know if one has high blood cholesterol is by getting a physical exam.
- There are two types of cholesterol:
- People who have excess body fat–especially around the waist area–are at higher risk for heart problems. The heart is working harder to push the oxygen and nutrients that the body needs.
- Also contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol.
- Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight (if obese) can help reduce high blood pressure and total blood cholesterol
- Physical Inactivity
- No physical activity can result in excess weight and can lead to heart disease
- It is recommended to engage in 30-60 minutes of exercise. 30 minutes of walking daily can help condition the heart and lungs.
- People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This causes the heart to work harder to bring oxygen and blood throughout the body.
- Diabetes decreases the amount of good cholesterol in the blood.
- Also increases the amount of fat deposited on the artery walls.
Which risk factors are uncontrollable?
- Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and they have heart attacks earlier in life.
- Heart attacks can occur at any age, however, the older you get the heart weakens–causing it to work harder–thereby increasing the risk of heart disease.
- African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians.
- Heart disease is also high amongst Mexican Americans and American Indians because of higher rates of obesity.
- Latina women are also at high risk because of reported higher rates of obesity and smoking.
How can I reduce my risk of heart disease?
- Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight and having obesity can increase your risk for heart disease.
- Eat a healthy diet. Try to limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium, and added sugars. Consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise has many benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving your circulation. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure–all of which can lower your risk of heart disease
- Stress reduction. Stress can raise your blood pressure and extreme stress can be a trigger for a heart attack. Manage stress through techniques such as meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, thai chi, yoga, and walking
- Control your blood pressure. On average, a normal blood pressure is 120/80, however, a normal blood pressure level can be different by individual. This is why it is important to speak with a doctor to find out what is normal for yourself. Get your blood pressure checked regularly–at least once a year for most adults and more often if you have high blood pressure. Many pharmacies, such as Rite Aid, Duane Reade, Walgreens, CVS, provide blood pressure checks for free (no insurance or appointments required).
- Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. You can do so by eating healthy, and if you take medications to lower your cholesterol continue taking it as prescribed.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It is recommended that men have no more than two drinks per day, and women should not have more than one.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. 311 has many resources to help you quit smoking.
- Manage diabetes. Take your medications and check your glucose levels in the morning and at night. High blood sugar from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels, causing your risk of diabetic heart disease to double. It is important to get tested for diabetes, and if you have it, to keep it under control.
- Get enough sleep. If you do not get enough sleep, you raise your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes–increasing your risk for heart disease. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.