Statistics on heart disease are alarming. It’s the number one cause of death in the United States, and you don’t have to be elderly or have a family history of heart problems to get heart disease (Source: CDC). Despite the numbers, you can avoid becoming a statistic, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease. Begin by educating yourself about prevention strategies, then stick to them. The sooner you get started, the more you can reduce your risk.
How Do I Begin?
Get started by making an appointment to see your doctor. Tell the receptionist that you want a cardiac risk assessment. Your doctor will evaluate your risk factors, including your age, personal and family health history, weight, blood pressure, and exercise history.
A cardiac risk assessment may also include:
Blood tests, such as a lipid profile to measure your “good” cholesterol (HDL), “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides
EKG (electrocardiogram, or ECG) to assess the electrical activity of your heart and help diagnose some types of heart disease
Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to make a picture of your heart. It can show abnormal pumping of your heart or damage from a heart attack.
Angiography to take pictures of the blood flow through your heart’s arteries. This shows if you have any blocked arteries.
Stress test to see how exercise affects your heart and how well blood flows through your arteries
What Do I Do Next?
You’ll need to see your doctor again after all your tests are done to discuss the results. Listen carefully to your doctor’s evaluation and ask as many questions as you need to understand how to best lower your risk of heart disease.
After your appointment, make sure you follow your doctor’s advice about lifestyle changes. This includes quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting enough exercise. Keep the cholesterol in your diet to less than 300 mg a day and try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
Just as important, take your medications as directed. This can include medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood clots. Not taking medications exactly as prescribed can actually increase your risk of heart disease. Also, keep in touch with your doctor. Let your doctor know right away about any new symptoms, side effects, or problems you are having.
Even if you aren’t having any problems, be sure to go to your regular appointments. Regular tests and checkups let your doctor monitor your risk of heart disease and see if your treatments and prevention strategies are working.
Finally, don’t guess about chest pain. If you have chest pain, take your nitroglycerin or other chest pain medications as directed. If you don’t have medications for chest pain, or the pain does not go away after five minutes, call 911. Don’t call your doctor first or wait any longer to see if it goes away. Remember, time is heart muscle!
Where Can I Get More Help?
Ask your doctor if you might benefit from a heart disease prevention program. These formal programs are run by medical professionals, often through local hospitals. Heart disease prevention programs create a personalized treatment plan and offer support that helps you to:
Reduce your risk factors for heart disease
Prevent a first heart attack or recurrent heart attack
Reduce the chances that existing heart disease will become more severe
Prevent or delay the need for major procedures, such as angioplasty, stent, or bypass surgery
Improve your overall cardiovascular health, lifestyle, and quality of life
Take action and increase your chances of living a long and heart-healthy life.