Heart health should be at the top of everyone’s priority list for the New Year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event and about one every minute will die from one. These are some startling statistics, but there are precautions you can take not to become an addition to this heart-wrenching trend.
The first thing you have to do is visit your doctor. “I would say the most important thing is to assess your risk,” said Dr. Zehra Jaffery, a cardiologist at Ochsner St. Anne. “Once you know that, you have to take proper precautions.” Taking the right precautions is very easy, according to Jaffery; there are six components:
- Weight Reduction. Monitor your BMI (body mass index) and if the ratio between your height and weight is above normal—25 percent—you need to reduce your weight.
- Exercise. Jaffery recommends walking on level ground at least 30 minutes a day five times a week.
- Blood Pressure. If your blood pressure is high, address it. It’s not enough to know it’s high and take medicine for it; you need to control it. Know what your goal blood pressure should be.
- Cholesterol. The target levels vary from person to person, so be sure to discuss your level with your doctor. It’s important to keep your good cholesterol (HDL) at proper levels to keep bad
cholesterol (LDL) low from clogging your arteries.
- Diabetes. Controlling blood sugar is imperative. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes have death rates two to four times higher than those who don’t.
- Smoking. “If you smoke, all bets are off,” said Jaffery. Unfortunately, she’s seen people as young as 30 requiring cardiac bypass. Bottom line…just don’t do it. If you do, adopt a plan to quit; it’s difficult but not impossible.
Jaffery mentions that the typical age range for men and women differs in terms of cardiac risk. For non-smoking women, risk for a heart attack starts at 55. For non-smoking men, they would have to be concerned about a heart attack 10 years earlier. Despite a later age of the onset of cardiac issues in women, their outcome is often worse.
The symptoms of a heart attack are also different between sexes. “Most men have a feeling of an elephant on their chest associated with weakness, palpitations, and sweating during their heart attack,” said Jaffery. “Women usually do not report similar symptoms. They experience a feeling of extreme exhaustion for no apparent reason, indigestion or a new onset of shortness of breath with exertion.” No matter what your gender, Jaffery stresses not to take any chances if you’re having symptoms suggestive of a heart attack. “What people usually do is wait and call their family or friends. That’s not the right approach because if you’re having symptoms, you need to call 911 immediately. With the heart, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”