Each year, healthcare professionals across the country recognize February as “American Heart Month.” This observance helps bring awareness to the importance of heart health and the prevalence of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women and most racial and ethnic groups. In fact, it’s estimated that in the U.S., someone dies every 37 seconds from heart disease and that one in four deaths are the result of heart disease.1 In addition, the New York State Department of Health estimates that cardiovascular disease accounted for 40% of deaths in the state in 2014 and that one in five New Yorkers aged 65 and older reported some type of cardiovascular disease in 2014.2 In Bed-Stuy, heart disease is the second leading cause of premature death.3
With this level of prevalence, it’s likely that you, or someone you know or love, has been affected by heart disease. Let’s take a brief look at this health condition, its causes, risk factors, and what you can do to prevent it. We’ll also touch on things you should ask your doctor about heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?
It’s important to understand that “heart disease” is not one specific illness. Rather, it’s a term that’s used to encompass many different conditions that affect the heart. In the U.S., the most common of these conditions is Coronary Artery Disease, so we’ll focus on that specific condition in this article. Coronary Artery Disease occurs when the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart and other parts of the body become partially or totally blocked over time by plaque, a substance made up of cholesterol and other substances in the blood. (We’ll take a closer look at cholesterol in a separate blog post.)
This process of blockage of the arteries supplying blood to the heart is referred to as atherosclerosis or sometimes “hardening of the arteries.” These blocked arteries can cause symptoms such as angina (chest pain), or, if the blockage is severe enough, heart attack. The symptoms of heart disease can be different from person to person, but the disease often progresses without causing any symptoms, so many people don’t know they have it until they experience a heart attack. In fact, of the estimated 805,000 heart attacks that occur in the U.S. each year, approximately 605,000 (75%) of them are first-time heart attacks.1
Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?
There are many factors that may put you at risk for heart disease.4 Some of these factors are outside of your control, for example:
- Age: Because plaque deposits in your arteries can build up over time, your risk for heart disease increases with age.
- Sex: Both men and women are at risk for heart disease, but they may be at risk for different types of heart disease. In addition, men and women may experience different symptoms of heart disease.
- Race or Ethnicity: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute, “coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. For Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders and American Indians or Alaska Natives, heart disease is second only to cancer. People of South Asian ancestry are at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and serious complications than other Asian Americans.”4
- Family Health History: Your risk for heart disease is higher if you have a family health history of early heart disease, and some genes have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
However, you can take action to reduce many risk factors for heart disease5 such as:
- High Blood Pressure (34% of Bed-Stuy adults have been diagnosed with hypertension.3
- Unhealthy Blood Cholesterol Levels
- Diabetes (13% of Bed-Stuy adults have been diagnosed with diabetes.3)
- Smoking and Tobacco Use
- Drinking Too Much Alcohol
- Lack of Physical Activity
- Unhealthy Eating Choices
- Lack of Quality Sleep
- Uncontrolled Stress
Preventing Heart Disease
While you may not be able to reduce some risk factors for heart disease, as explained above, you can help to reduce many of the risk factors by making healthy lifestyle choices. For example, if you have been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol), or diabetes, then it’s important to manage these health conditions. If you smoke or use tobacco products, develop a plan to quit. Living a sedentary lifestyle, or making poor eating choices? Not getting enough quality sleep or having a hard time managing stress at work or at home? Talk to your healthcare provider about coming up with a plan to address the areas where you want to make changes.
Ask Your Doctor
If you’re concerned about your risk for heart disease, be sure to talk to your primary care physician at your next appointment. Your doctor can assess your risk factors, evaluate your family health history, and order blood work and diagnostic tests in order to diagnose you with heart disease. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist such as a cardiologist, hypertension specialist, or endocrinologist to address specific health conditions that may increase your risk for heart disease.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Retrieved 2/8/20.*
- New York State Department of Health. Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/cardiovascular/heart_disease/. Retrieved 2/8/20.
- Hinterland K, Naidoo M, King L, Lewin V, Myerson G, Noumbissi B, Woodward M, Gould LH, Gwynn RC, Barbot O, Bassett MT.
Community Health Profiles 2018, Brooklyn Community District 3: Bedford Stuyvesant; 2018; 27(59):1-20. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/data/2018chp-bk3.pdf. Retrieved 2/8/20.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Coronary Heart Disease. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease. Retrieved 2/8/20
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Know Your Risk for Heart Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm. Retrieved 2/8/20.*
*Reference to specific commercial products, manufacturers, companies, or trademarks does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. Government, Department of Health and Human Services, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Note: Any content found on the Rudoy Medical website is intended as general information only and is not intended to serve as professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a physical or mental health concern, you should always consult with a qualified healthcare provider promptly. Do not forego or delay seeking treatment because of something you have read on our website. If you are experiencing a medical emergency or are in crisis, call 911 or your local emergency service provider immediately.