Steps to Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States for many reasons, but individuals can fight back and not allow themselves to become a statistic. Often when we or our loved ones fall ill, it quickly becomes overwhelming, and people frequently feel helpless. There is no reason to reach this point. Through several small steps, you can take a commanding control of your cardiovascular health and become a success story.

Before we delve into the steps necessary for cardiovascular success, it is first important to realize what we are talking about. As a society, when we say "heart disease," people most often think of coronary artery disease (CAD) or atherosclerosis/blockages of the arteries to the heart. In reality, however, there are many different heart problems, which, if recognized, are easy to treat such as irregular heart rhythms (electrical), heart valve problems (mechanical) and CAD (plumbing). The heart is very much like an engine with many integrated systems that all need to work well together for proper function. For the purposes of this article, I will continue to use the term "heart disease" but the recommendations apply to all types of heart disease.

Here are several steps you can take to command control of your cardiovascular health and become a success story – click the links below to learn about different items:

Know Your Numbers

You have likely heard this phrase before but may not know what it means exactly. Over the years as researchers have looked at ways to prevent and treat heart disease, time and time again the best treatments have revolved around treating the risk factors for heart disease. "Your numbers" are measurements of some key risk factors. Knowing what your numbers are and what your goal is should be the first step in regaining control of your heart health. (Each goal is different for each patient.)

There are six numbers you need to know:

  • LDL – This is the bad cholesterol that is felt to cause much of the coronary artery disease.
  • HDL – This is the good cholesterol, which is a problem if low—but high levels may not be as protective as once thought.
  • Blood pressure – This is the force continually placed on your blood vessels, which if high can cause damage.
  • Diabetes/HbA1c – The new standard in diagnosing and monitoring diabetes is the HbA1c, which can show an average of your blood sugars over a three-month period.
  • BMI – Your body mass index is a fancy way of determining if your weight is appropriate for your height.
  • Smoking status – Your smoking status is not so much a number as simply a risk factor. Smokers have a dramatically increased risk of heart disease.

If you address each of these issues, you will dramatically reduce your chance of developing heart disease. Cut out the following card, write in the numbers you know and ask your physician to help you fill in the ones you don’t know, and carry it in your wallet and look at it frequently:

  Risk Factor   My Number   My Goal
  LDL (Bad Cholesterol)    
  HDL (Good Cholesterol)    
  Blood Pressure    
  BMI (Body Mass Index)    
  Smoking     Non-smoker

Click here for a printable wallet card!

Find a Communicative Doctor

Since successful cardiovascular care depends on good communication, find yourself a cardiologist who not only will answer your questions but also will explain your diagnosis, test results and treatment options. The more you understand, the less stressful the process will be. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Information is power, and getting a second viewpoint can help you make the right decisions.

Build a Team

Recognizing that you are not in the fight for your heart health alone can help decrease your stress and worry. Involve your family as much as possible, they will be an invaluable resource as you continue to deal with cardiovascular disease and can often help to keep you healthy. There are even new services where you can hire a nurse to accompany you to your visits and help you streamline your care and ask appropriate questions.

Take Care of Your Body

Finally, recognize that your heart is an engine, working inside of a bigger machine. Treat your body well by eating well and exercising. Not only will this help you bring your numbers in line, you also will get to know your body better so that if you do develop heart disease, you will pick up on it much earlier.

For exercise, consult with your primary care physician before starting a new exercise program. Ideally, you will do a moderate physical activity for 30 minutes on at least five days of each week. Some examples are walking briskly, raking leaves or sweeping the sidewalk, swimming or an exercise class. Choose something you enjoy—that increases the likelihood that you will stick with it. For nutrition, focus on the basics: a diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains; lean proteins; and low-fat dairy. Drink lots of water, but keep an eye on your salt and sugar intake.

Overall, as we begin February, which is Heart Month, take the time to educate yourself about your heart health and be an active participant. Doing so may help you be one of the success stories.