Heart disease is the most common cause of death among Americans, claiming nearly 660,000 lives a year in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 200,000 of those deaths from heart disease and stroke are preventable. Zing Health arms its members with the resources to improve their cardiovascular health.
Dr. Lisa McAdams, senior medical director at Zing Health, said you should notify your doctor or seek medical attention without delay if you experience any of the following heart attack symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain in the neck, upper back, or left arm
- A sensation of heaviness in your torso, often described as feeling as if an elephant is sitting on your chest
Women may experience vague, but still serious, signs, such as heartburn, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, or extreme tiredness. “If you are having any of these warning signs, let your doctor know or even call 9-1-1,” Dr. McAdams said. “Even if you’re not sure, let the doctor assess the situation to determine whether it's something that is concerning.”
Managing Heart Disease Risk Factors
Age and family history are risk factors that cannot be changed, which is why it’s important to be vigilant about monitoring your cardiovascular health. Lifestyle risk factors can be controlled though, and healthy habits can reduce overall risk even for those with age or heredity working against them.
Risks to reduce include a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, salt or sugar, a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, ineffective stress management, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and being overweight.
High cholesterol or triglycerides, high blood pressure, and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease that can have vague or no symptoms and can go undiagnosed without regular checkups. All three conditions can be managed with medication, diet, and exercise. Although they can be “silent” diseases, it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders for managing them to prevent serious heart disease and other complications down the road.
“Unfortunately, over decades and decades, changes in the American lifestyle have contributed to the increase in heart disease,” said Dr. McAdams. However, there is much you can do to lower your risk for having a heart attack. The most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease, starts when fat builds up as plaque in the blood vessels and restricts blood supply to the heart.
“Research shows that changing your diet to a primarily plant-based, whole food diet can actually reverse coronary artery disease so that maybe you'll never have a heart attack in the first place,” Dr. McAdams said. “We also use medications called statins that can lower the fat levels in your blood to reduce the plaque buildup called atherosclerosis as well. If you have chronic high blood pressure that has impacted the heart muscle itself, we can control it and prevent additional damage through a combination of medicine, exercise, and diet.”
Heart Disease and Community Health
Many communities lack a variety of grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices, making a healthy diet harder to maintain. Neighborhoods may have limited safe outdoor places to get exercise, contributing to inactivity. Communities with fewer healthcare professionals can make visiting the doctor more challenging for those who don’t have reliable transportation.
Dr. McAdams encourages everyone to see their primary care provider regularly to screen for and manage cardiovascular disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high lipids, and diabetes. This is particularly important for individuals with a family history of high cholesterol or triglycerides, high blood pressure, or heart attack at a young age.
“Physicians and their staff are great resources as far as giving people tips for a healthy lifestyle, helping people to stop smoking, changing their diet so that they are eating more healthy foods that would help with reversing the plaque that's built up, and then also exercise and heart health,” Dr. McAdams said. “They can provide all those kinds of tips in addition to just managing their disease and prescribing medications.”
Family Members, Caregivers and Heart Health
Families and caregivers can be a tremendous support with respect to heart disease of any kind. Let them know about your risk factors. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, they can help you to stay on a healthy diet and to get the exercise that you need.
“Maybe that's just being that sort of accountability partner where they're checking to make sure that you did what you were supposed to do,” Dr. McAdams explained. “Or maybe they'll be willing to even get out there and get some exercise with you or take you to the grocery store so that you can buy healthier foods, especially if there's not one nearby you. If somebody's not comfortable using our resources for getting to the doctor, a family member, caregiver or even a friend can help them get there.”
Dr. McAdams also recommends checking with your health plan to see what benefits they offer that can help you lead a healthier lifestyle. For example, some plans include weight loss and fitness benefits, assistance with errands, and transportation to medical appointments.