5 Things to Know About Preventing Heart Disease

One in every four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease, considered one of the most preventable health ailments

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Cardiologist Theresa Waters practices at Cardiovascular Group in Syracuse.
Cardiologist Theresa Waters practices at Cardiovascular Group in Syracuse.

While it remains one of the most preventable health ailments, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, disability and health care spending in the United States for men and women.

About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year — that’s one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Heart disease is focused on coronary arteries which supply the heart with blood. You can develop plaque build-up, which affects your arteries and blocks flow to the heart.

“Heart health is important and there are several things you can do to prevent heart attacks and strokes that people may not be aware of,” said Theresa Waters, cardiologist for Cardiovascular Group in Syracuse. “You should know everything you need to know about living healthier and longer.”

Walters recently discussed five most important things things you need to know about heart health.

1. Men and women have different symptoms

While women can also have the same common heart attack symptom such as chest pain or discomfort, they are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable — the image of the feeling of an elephant on your chest, comes to mind — but they can be subtler and sometimes confusing.

“Sometimes when you just feel fatigued that may be the only symptoms you feel,” said Waters. “You have to know that it is not always going to have the classic chest pounding pain. Eight million women in the U.S. have heart disease and that is a significant number.”

2. Eating healthy can’t help you alone

Being overweight continues to be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your heart healthy by making healthier food choices isn’t as hard as it sounds. Fresh, filling and heart-healthy, fruits and vegetables are an important part of your overall healthy eating plan. They are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and low in fat and calories, according to the American Heart Association.

However, eating healthy is not the only silver bullet. “Certain anxiety you can have can cause palpitations. It can cause rapid heart beating and shortness of breath,” said Waters. “How you live your lifestyle and if you let stress overcome can negate all the healthy aspects you do for your heart.”

Also other risk factors include high blood pressure and smoking, she said.

3. Check family history

Asking if heart disease or stroke runs in your family is an important question that must be asked. Knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid both heart disease and stroke. Both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history.

“If your first degree relatives such as your mom, dad, brother and sister have heart disease you are definitely more likely to be predisposed to it,” said Waters. “While there is not a specific genetic test that can determine if you will definitely have heart disease, I would recommend getting evaluated by a cardiologist on a regularly basis when this is a condition that has affected layers of your family.”

You can be evaluated by stress test, EKG and sometimes imaging tests, Waters said.

4. Find the right diet

Every new year, a new diet is all the rage. There are some that can be detrimental to your health and others that have found success. Two diets have been approved by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. They are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean diets.

The DASH diet is an eating plan to lower or control high blood pressure. The diet emphasizes foods that are lower in sodium as well as foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium such as nutrients that help lower blood pressure. The DASH diet features menus with plenty of vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, as well as whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts. It offers limited portions of red meats, sweets and sugary beverages. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating, plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine, among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. “These diets focus on healthy fats and lower cholesterol foods,“ added Walters. “They target the issues that people have in symptoms of heart disease. It is always important what you put in your body.”

5. It’s a myth that if you take a cholesterol-lowering drug you can eat anything

Cholesterol in the bloodstream comes from two sources — your liver makes some and you get some from certain foods. Statins reduce the amount of cholesterol made by the liver. This causes blood levels of cholesterol to drop, which, in turn, reduces the amount of cholesterol deposited in your arteries. If you take a statin and continue to eat foods that are high in cholesterol plus saturated fat, the drug will not be as effective, and your cholesterol level will not fall. “The statin theory says that it lowers your cholesterol better when you are eating healthier then when you are doing unhealthy things to your body,” said Waters. “There is scientific evidence that says you can’t just do anything you want and expect medication or anything else to solve the problem regardless.”

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