Preventing Heart Disease: Steps You Can Take

February is Heart Disease Awareness Month, and I’ve taken it upon myself to become more aware and share my knowledge with you.

Heart disease is basically several different conditions that affect your heart health. Cardiovascular disease falls under the heart disease umbrella but specifically refers to problems caused by the build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries. Heart disease can be caused by a build-up of plaque in your blood vessels and arteries, an abnormal heartbeat, heart defects you are born with, cardiomyopathy or the enlarging of the heart muscle, a bacterial or viral infection, and aging.

So, who is at risk for heart disease?

People of all genders and races are at risk for and affected by heart disease, although the risk factors vary. For example, men are more likely on average to have their first heart attack by age 65, while women won’t have their first heart attack until age 72. Endometriosis and polycystic ovary disease can raise the chance of heart disease in women significantly. Additionally, symptoms of a heart attack can be different in men and women. Intense chest pain that feels like a weight is crushing your chest is the most noted sign of a heart attack. Shortness of breath and fainting are also signs. Men will most likely experience these symptoms. Women might experience these symptoms, but signs of a woman having a heart attack are a bit more subtle. Common symptoms for women include sudden or dramatic tiredness, shortness of breath or sweating, and pain in the neck of jaw.

In addition to differences in risk factors and symptoms in men and women, there are also some differences in risk based on race and ethnicity. Almost half of all African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease. Studies suspect that this high risk has to do with a genetic trait that predisposes African Americans to high blood pressure. About one-third of white adults have some sort of cardiovascular disease. Latino Americans have higher rates of cardiovascular risk than other populations, however, they have lower rates of heart disease overall. Asian Americans have a large variety of risk factors and heart disease within their own population, but they typically have lower rates overall than other groups.

Genetic predisposition can affect how much of a risk for heart disease you have, but lifestyle choices are the biggest determining factor. Men are generally more likely to have heart disease, and the risk for this increases as you age. Additionally, smoking, poor diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, lack of exercise, and stress can all cause heart disease.

Even if you are at risk due to family history, sex, or age, talk with your doctor about ways you can have a healthier lifestyle to protect yourself from heart disease. Getting thirty minutes of exercise several times a week is recommended, and eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish can help. Avoid food high in carbohydrates and processed food.

Now that you know a bit more about heart disease, you can help spread the awareness during Heart Disease Awareness Month. If you think you might be at risk, ask your doctor about what you can due to prevent heart disease.