Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States, according to WebMD. The term “heart disease” is very broad and can include coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, heart valve disease, heart muscle disease and vascular disease. The most common of these is coronary disease that occurs when vessels that connect to the heart become blocked, restricting natural blood flow causing the heart to lose oxygen and vital nutrients it needs to work adequately.
Typically the vessels get clogged due to a diet high in fat, which causes fatty tissues to release chemicals that create a sort of sticky film that forms inside the blood vessels. Proteins and other nutrients get stuck to the film and form a lining of plaque in the vessels, making them narrower and less elastic. The positive news about heart disease is that in most cases and particularly in coronary disease it can be easily treated and even prevented by making moderate lifestyle changes.
“Something I recommend is the avoidance of tobacco products. You can’t do much to change your parents’ genetic predisposition but life changes affect genetic expression that is predisposed to coronary disease,” said Dr. Robert Wesley, a board certified cardiologist and board certified doctor in integrative and holistic medicine from the Nevada Heart and Vascular Center.
Changes in diet and exercise are important steps in improving heart disease. Eating less saturated fats and trans fatty fats, eating more fruits and vegetables with fiber, eating wheat and multigrain breads and also changing diet to more lean meats can improve heart health and reduce the risk of a cardiac event.
“It’s good to avoid mostly red meats. We recommend a fish-dominated diet as even poultry is not that healthy,” said Wesley.
Aside from eating healthy, it is also recommended to exercise regularly to help maintain good body weight. Regular exercise, a minimum of 30 minutes per day, will strengthen the heart and lungs.
However, it is important to understand that aside from lifestyle choices genetics also can play a key factor in your chances of developing heart disease. Healthy diet and exercise are important in reducing heart disease risk regardless of genetics.
A diagnosis of heart disease is usually performed using an EKG (electrocardiogram) a chest X-ray or a stress test. With a diagnosis of heart disease it is important to then monitor your levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.
It’s important to note that there are two types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is good cholesterol. The total level of cholesterol should be kept under 200 and the LDL level should be less then 100. Triglycerides, other types of fat that flows in the blood stream, should also be monitored and must be kept below 150. Diet can help lower bad cholesterol; exercise can raise good cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol is something that usually runs in the family and if other relatives have high cholesterol it would be recommended to check your cholesterol levels regularly.
Aside from the noted lifestyle changes a doctor might also recommend statins, which are medications that block the production of cholesterol and also lower the LDL levels in the system. Usually these types of medications are effective when taken as prescribed and as a complementary effort to the healthy eating and exercise lifestyle changes.
With 8 percent of the American population with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, it is likely that someone you are close to or know suffers from diabetes. Every year more and more people are diagnosed, but even so 24 percent of diabetes still hasn’t been diagnosed.
Diabetes is caused by high levels of blood glucose which occurs when food we eat is turned into glucose (sugar). The pancreas is then supposed to use insulin to help get glucose into the cells of our bodies. People suffering from diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin or can’t use their own insulin, which causes sugar build-up in the blood. While many people with diabetes don’t have too many complications, in some serious cases it can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the CDC. In some cases obesity is a tell-tale sign of diabetes risk but not everyone with diabetes is overweight. Symptoms such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, sudden vision changes, extreme hunger, numbness in hands or feet, dry skin and sores that heal slowly are red flags for diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 diabetes usually affects youth and is also called juvenile diabetes but is only accountable for 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes is more common — nearly 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases are type 2. Some of the risks for type 2 diabetes are older age, obesity, genetics, impaired glucose tolerance. Being African American, Hispanic, and American Indian or a Pacific Islander puts you at much higher risk than other ethnic groups. Because diabetes can cause heart disease a lot of the recommendations to reducing the risk of diabetes are very much the same. Eating healthy and having enough physical activity are very important life modifications that someone can make to either reduce their risk for diabetes or to treat diabetes.
“Lifestyle is definitely the key element to prevent diabetes. Eating healthy is very important but I don’t think you can get there with diet alone. The national recommendation is 30 minutes a day three times a week but I think that is probably minimal,” said Dr. Murray Flaster, an associate professor of internal medicine and neurology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and stroke prevention specialist at UMC. While only a doctor can diagnose diabetes, knowing your Body Mass Index (a measurement of the relationship between height and weight which charts your weight status from underweight to obese) can determine whether you need to be tested for diabetes. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to measures your glucose levels regularly by pricking your finger and testing your blood with a machine. Glucose levels should be below 180 (hyperglycemia) and above 70 (hypoglycemia). Medications are often provided for patients diagnosed with diabetes but will only work in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes.
“One thing I tell people is when you see people who are in their 80s, they are typically thin and perhaps overweight people don’t get to live that long. It is very important for many reasons to exercise and diet and drop your weight,” said Flaster.
Of all the health problems that require immediate attention, stroke is one of the most critical. When someone is having a stroke every second counts. Mere seconds can make the difference between a full recovery and a life confined to a wheel chair or death. According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States suffers a stroke every 45 seconds, which amounts to about 700,000 people every year.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off or when a blood vessel bursts. This is usually caused by coronary artery disease, or fatty deposits in the arteries make them narrower that until they eventually get blocked completely, cutting off the blood supply to the brain and other vital organs.
When blood flow to the brain is interrupted during a stroke, the brain cells begin to die from lack of oxygen. The sooner you get to a hospital for treatment the more brain cells can be salvaged. Because a stroke doesn’t begin with a serious or sharp pain and there are not visible signs of a lesion or injury, most strokes will go unnoticed for several minutes, which can make one’s chances for survival slim. It is because of this that it is important to know the major signs of a stroke: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination or a sudden and severe headache. According to the Centers for Disease Control all of these symptoms appear suddenly and in most cases more that one symptom occurs at the same time. In order to reduce the chances of having a stroke it is recommended to prevent and control high blood pressure. Dr. Murray Flaster, an associate professor of internal medicine and neurology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and a stroke prevention specialist at UMC, recommends that blood pressure should be lower than 140 over 80.
Diabetes is also a major precursor to suffering from a stroke, as is having high cholesterol. To reduce the risk of having high cholesterol or diabetes it is recommended to practice a healthy lifestyle low in fatty foods and high in fiber, lean meats and fruits as well as maintaining an active lifestyle with frequent exercise.
Another positive change someone can make to substantially reduce stroke risk is to quit smoking. Risk of a stroke decreases a few years after quitting smoking.
Five cigarettes a day are not as bad as a pack a day, but five is not good for you either, Flaster said, and second-hand smoke is harmful to the family members as well as the smokers.
If you have a history of stroke in your family it is also advisable to be more vigilant about monitoring your cholesterol, blood pressure and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.