Advice from the heart: Take these steps to protect yourself against cardiovascular disease

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 5, 2014 

Cardiovascular disease, which encompasses any disease of the heart or blood vessels, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and in Washington state.

More than 2,100 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each day — or one every 40 seconds.

“Who gets it? Anybody can. It’s common in men and women,” says Dr. Mark Daniels, a cardiologist for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.

The risk of cardiovascular disease increases as people age, but the good news for adults is that there are steps they can take to protect themselves.

– Maintain a healthy weight.

– Quit smoking. “It’s huge,” Daniels says. “If you stop, it really makes a difference.”

– Control other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

– Get at least 40 minutes of exercise at least four days a week through walking or any other exercise that gets your heart rate up.

– Eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of lean protein, and foods low in sugar, salt and saturated fats.

– Don’t drink too much alcohol. Up to a glass a day is OK, but more than that can cause other health problems, such as elevated blood pressure.

– Know your family history, to assess your own risk.

– Know the symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks, even if you’re young and don’t think you have any of the risk factors.

“Even if you think you’re active or healthy, no one is immune,” Daniels says. “There’s no guarantee.”

Common symptoms of a heart attack include discomfort in the chest — it can feel like pressure or an ache — that can radiate to your neck, jaw, arms, shoulders or back. Symptoms also can include shortness of breath, sweat, nausea, or feeling like you have heartburn.

Women can have those symptoms as well as upper-back pressure or something else that’s hard to pinpoint.

“They just feel terrible,” Daniels says. “They can’t quite describe (it).”

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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