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By Nicole Long, MSW, LICSW

Heart disease is the disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to a heart attack.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, one in four deaths are caused by heart disease, and it is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.1

The CDC goes on to point out that there are conditions and behaviors that put people at risk for heart disease and the top three risk factors include:

  1. High blood pressure (HBP). The American Heart Association reports that nearly half of the American population over the age of 20 has high blood pressure without even knowing it!  It is important to have your doctor check your blood pressure regularly as high blood pressure can lead to an increased chance of having a heart attack or a stroke.
  2. High blood cholesterol. The American Heart Association emphasis the importance of having your cholesterol tested. High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart disease and stroke. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, your risk increases even more.
  3. Smoking. In 2016, the CDC estimated that 37.8 million adults in the U.S. currently smoke cigarettes and thousands of young people start smoking each day. To learn about resources available to help you or a loved one quit smoking, please call 1-800-QUIT-NOW which is a federally funded program operated by the CDC.

Fortunately, heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions.

Know the Signs. Here are heart attack warning signs from the American Heart Association:

  • Chest discomfort.Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.2

If you experience heart attack warning signs, call 911 immediately.
Here are some guidelines from the CDC to help control your heart health:

  • Don’t smoke. If you already smoke, learn about the available resources to help you quit.Quitting smoking is very difficult and there are resources available to help you.
  • Manage conditions. Keep in contact with your doctors and other professionals that you consider part of your health care team. Keep them informed about how you are feeling and be prepared at your appointments to ask about any questions you may have.   Work with your health care team to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Make heart-healthy eating changes. The CDC offers suggestions on heart-healthy eating options such as eating fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods when you are able. Consider getting input from a Nutritionist to get your diet on the right track.
  • Stay active. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes
    of moderate physical activity per week for adults, aiming for 30 minutes of exercise per day, five days a week. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you are thinking about starting a new exercise routine and consider seeking the help of a personal trainer or other professional to determine what type of exercise is best for you.

There are many benefits to having a healthy lifestyle including preventing cardiovascular disease.  It is never too late to make changes to your lifestyle and there are many resources available to help you along the way.  If you are interested in learning about available local resources consider contacting your local YMCA or your health insurance company to see what benefits you are eligible for!

About the Author Nicole Long is the Chief Executive Officer of Old Colony Elder Services (OCES).  Founded in 1974, OCES is a private, non-profit organization proudly serving greater Plymouth County and surrounding communities. OCES is designated as one of 26 Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. OCES’ mission is to support the independence and dignity of elders and people with disabilities by providing essential information and services that promote healthy and safe living. The agency offers a number of programs to serve seniors, individuals with disabilities, their families and caregivers. For more information call 508-584-1561 or visit www.ocesma.org

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other healthcare providers. Always consult your healthcare provider about your medications, symptoms, and health problems.  Any websites listed are external websites that are not maintained or endorsed by Old Colony Elder Services (OCES).  A link does not constitute an endorsement of content, viewpoint, policies, products or services of that website. Once you link to another website not maintained by OCES, you are subject to the terms and conditions of that website, including but not limited to its privacy policy.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, November 28.) Heart Disease Facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
2American Heart Association. (2016, June 30.) Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. Retrieved from