Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounted for 859,125 deaths in 2017. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.
Some of the life-threatening issues and diseases caused by an unhealthy heart include:
- Heart attacks. Heart attacks are caused by blocked arteries that restrict blood flow and oxygen to the heart.
- Heart failure. Heart failure happens when the heart isn’t able to pump blood in and out the way it normally does.
- Coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD occurs when plaque builds up in the two coronary arteries in your heart. It kills the most people out of any heart condition.
- Strokes. These happen when blood flow from your heart to your brain is impaired or ceases.
How to Tell if Your Heart is Healthy
There are several things both you and your doctor can do to tell if your heart is healthy. By staying on top of the things described below, you can stay on top of your heart health. Here’s what you or your doctor need to do:
- Check your heart rate. Your doctor will feel your pulse to check your heart rate and rhythm. Each pulse matches up with a heartbeat that pumps blood through your arteries. Finding out your pulse helps your doctor judge the strength of your blood flow and blood pressure in different parts of your body. A normal heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.
- Check your blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood around your body. There are two ways it’s measured:
- Systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart squeezes.
- Diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is relaxed, between heartbeats.
Normal blood pressure for an adult, when you’re at rest is less than 120 over less than 80. The 120 is the systolic pressure. The 80 is the diastolic pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 or higher. Keeping your blood pressure in the normal range is important because years of high blood pressure can stiffen and narrow your artery walls, which blocks the flow of blood to your heart. It can lead to heart disease or heart attack.
- Blood test. Your doctor may suggest a blood test to check your levels of sodium, potassium, albumin, and creatinine. Abnormal levels might suggest a problem with organs like your kidneys and liver, and possible signs of heart failure.
9 Signs of an Unhealthy Heart
If something was wrong with your heart, would you be able to recognize the signs? Not all heart problems come with clear warning signs. Some heart symptoms don’t even happen in your chest, and it’s not always easy to tell what’s going on. Here are the most common signs of heart problems:
1. Chest Discomfort
This is the most common sign of heart danger. If you have a blocked artery or are having a heart attack, you may feel pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest. The feeling usually lasts longer than a few minutes. If the symptoms are more severe and don’t go away after a few minutes, you should call 911.
2. Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain
Some people, usually women, have these symptoms during a heart attack. These symptoms could be related to something you ate, but if you’re at risk for heart disease, you should know that they can also happen during a heart attack.
3. Pain That Spreads to Your Arm
Another classic sign of a heart attack is pain that radiates down the left side of your body and moves outward to your arm. Some patients have also just felt the pain in their arms during a heart attack.
4. Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded
Many things can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded for a moment, such as getting up too quickly or not eating enough during the day. But if you suddenly feel unsteady and you also have chest pain or shortness of breath, call your doctor right away.
5. Throat or Jaw Pain
Throat or jaw pain by itself probably isn’t heart-related. But if you have pain or pressure that spreads to your throat or jaw, it could be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 and get medical attention immediately to make sure everything’s all right.
6. Shortness of Breath or Fatigue
If you suddenly feel fatigued or out of breath after doing something you had no problem doing in the past – like climbing stairs or carrying groceries from the car – make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
7. Irregular Heartbeat
If you’re excited or nervous, it’s normal for your heart to skip a beat once in a while. But if you feel like your heart is beating out of time for more than a few seconds or if it’s happening often, talk to your doctor.
8. Swollen Legs, Feet, and Ankles
This can be a sign that your heart isn’t pumping blood as effectively as it should. When your heart can’t pump blood fast enough, blood backs up in your veins and causes bloating. Heart failure can also make it harder for your kidneys to remove excess water and sodium from your body, which can lead to bloating.
If you break out in a cold sweat for no obvious reason, it could be a sign of a heart attack. If this happens with any of the other symptoms described here, call 911 to get to a hospital immediately, and don’t try to drive yourself.
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Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Here are some things you can do to help your heart be as healthy as it can be. Making lifestyle changes can help an unhealthy heart become healthy again. Here’s what you can do improve your heart health:
- Quit smoking. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, which makes them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than they are in nonsmokers.
- Eat healthy food. A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease. Instead, choose a diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and fish.
- Increase physical activity. Getting regular physical exercise can help you lose weight and improve your heart health. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Manage Your High Blood Pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you take blood pressure medication. This, in addition to regular exercise, can help your heart health. Reducing alcohol consumption can also help this.
Learn More About Heart Care with Baptist Health
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