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A sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and smoking can take their toll over the years and pave the way for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of mortality globally.
Nearly one in every three patients in the developed world is a heart patient. (1)
What Are the Major Functions of the Heart?
The main function of the heart is to pump blood around the circulation system. Blood is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body and carrying away toxins, carbon dioxide, and other waste from the tissue.
What Increases the Risk of Developing Heart Disease?
Some factors that can make you more prone to cardiovascular problems are:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Family history of heart disease
- Smoking cigarettes
- Male over 40 years of age
- Post-menopausal females
- Being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle
What Lifestyle Changes Do You Recommend to Combat Heart Disease?
In general, you can make lifestyle changes to reduce the chances of developing heart disease. These include:
- Go for regular checkups to catch conditions that increase the risk of developing heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and diabetes. Prompt treatment and monitoring of these conditions help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. (2)
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, speak with your doctor about helping you quit. (3)
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. In particular, this is about having a healthy and balanced diet that is low in saturated fats. (4)
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Follow national guidance on alcohol intake.
- Increase your activity level. Start exercising regularly for at least 30 minutes a day, or go for a walk on weekdays. This can help you achieve your ideal weight and physical fitness while also relieving stress. (5)
- Sleep. Get good-quality sleep for at least 6 hours each night. Consistently poor sleep can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. (6)
These lifestyle changes (in addition to taking all your medication regularly) are particularly important if you have already had a heart problem.
What Are the Most Prevalent Heart Problems and Diseases?
Coronary artery disease (often resulting in angina and heart attacks) is the most common heart problem. It is characterized by narrowings or blockages in the coronary arteries, which supply blood directly to the heart muscle.
Other heart diseases include the following:
- Heart arrhythmias: These refer to an abnormality in the electrical systems that ensures the heart beats regularly and in the right way. (8)
- Heart failure: This is described as a long-term reduction in the heart’s pumping capability due to conditions such as coronary heart disease, thyroid disorders, cardiomyopathy, or hypertension. (9)
- Heart valve disease: Your heart contains valves that direct the movement of blood between the four chambers of the heart, the lungs, and blood vessels. Valve disease is characterized by an abnormality of these valves that impairs their proper opening and closing. (10)
- Congenital heart disease: This refers to the heart defects people are born with.
- Endocarditis: This is an infection that occurs inside the heart.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Diseases?
Coronary artery disease can present with chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in the neck, jaw, or arms. You may not know you have coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack, arrhythmia, angina, stroke, or heart failure.
Heart arrhythmias are usually accompanied by heart palpitations or fluttering in the chest. Light-headedness, fainting, or breathlessness can also occur. (11)
Heart failure and disease of the heart muscle can present with shortness of breath, swollen feet, and general fatigue.
What Causes Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis that results in narrowings and blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Atherosclerosis occurs silently over many years and is the buildup of plaque inside your arteries. (12) This plaque consists of cholesterol, fatty substance, and blood clots that stick to the arterial walls and accumulate over time to narrow the passage of blood.
The plaque also solidifies gradually, making the arteries stiff and unable to expand or constrict according to the volume of blood flowing through them.
When Should a Doctor Be Consulted?
You should see a doctor or cardiologist if you are worried that you may have signs or symptoms of heart disease, and you should not be concerned about wasting anybody’s time.
In particular, you should seek emergency help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden and persistent pain or discomfort in the chest
- Pain that radiates from the chest to your right or left arm, neck, jaw, back, or stomach
- Suddenly feeling sick, sweaty, or light-headed
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, or lower legs or significant weight gain
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Signs of a stroke
- Unprovoked fainting and blackouts
- Heart palpitations that continue for longer than a few seconds or if they are accompanied by dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea, excessive or unusual sweating.
- If you are unsure about anything
Many controllable and uncontrollable factors trigger the onset of heart problems. There is nothing you can do to change your genetic predisposition to heart disease. Similarly, you cannot avert the age-related degeneration of heart function.
But there are specific things you can do, especially when it comes to controlling risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and diabetes.