Typically, when we think of someone suffering from a heart attack, we imagine them suddenly clutching their chest and falling to the ground. But there are often many other warning signs besides chest pain. Dizziness, sweating, nausea, and pale skin can all be symptoms of a heart attack, and knowing the warning signs can save your life or the life of someone you love. That’s why you should never ignore any new or sudden changes in your body that could indicate your heart is at risk. Heart attacks are one complication of heart disease. Other complications include stroke, aneurysm, and heart failure.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and claims more lives than all types of cancer combined. Roughly, 800,000 Americans died from heart disease and stroke in 2013, accounting for about one in every three deaths.
From Fear to Action
The World Health Organization says we know what the major causes of chronic disease are and that by eliminating these risk factors, we could prevent at least 80% of all heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. In the U.S. alone, we could prevent at least 200,000 heart disease deaths annually just by changing our health habits.
Don’t let fear or lack of knowledge stand between you and a healthy heart. You can take charge of your health and significantly lower YOUR risk of developing heart disease.
Assess your risks factors. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. However, most of the risk factors are at least partially under your control.
How many of these heart disease risk factors do YOU have?
- High blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg. If your top or bottom number is higher, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes and medicines to lower your blood pressure
- Poor diet. A diet high in added sugars, saturated fat, and processed foods can cause the buildup of plaque on artery walls, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke
- High blood cholesterol. High total cholesterol (greater than 200 mg/dL) or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) greater than 100 mg/dL increases your risk of heart disease
- Diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, adults who have diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease
- Being overweight or obese. If you are 20% or more above your ideal weight, you have too much body fat, which increases cholesterol levels and blood pressure and raises your risk for diabetes
- Lack of physical activity. Physical activity helps prevent some of the other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
- Smoking. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the U.S. and is directly responsible for about 20% of all deaths from heart disease
Action Item: Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for heart disease. Together, develop a plan to improve your heart health and lower your risks. Make sure you are aware of the warning signs of heart disease and seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.
Recognize the warning signs and seek immediate medical care. The symptoms of heart disease vary among individuals and between men and women. However, there are clear warning signs if you are having a heart attack or stroke.
Top heart attack symptoms
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
Signs of a stroke
- Numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
Call 911 immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
Lower your risks.
The American Heart Association says you can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke by focusing on these health factors and behaviors:
- Not smoking
- Getting at least 2 ½ hours of regular physical activity each week
- Eating a healthy diet, consisting primarily of plant-based foods, lean protein, and low-fat dairy
- Maintaining a healthy weight (ask your doctor what your weight should be)
- Controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
As an added benefit, these same lifestyle changes will help you prevent other chronic diseases as well, including cancer and type 2 diabetes.