Heart Disease: Risk Factors, Preventative Measures, and What to Do in an Emergency

Accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide, heart disease is the leading cause of death across the globe. However, there are ways to combat and prevent the incredibly prevalent condition. With a rising impact of heart disease globally, healthcare professionals all over the world share the same goal: preventing cardiovascular emergencies from occurring in the first place.

Heart disease refers to a grouping of diseases caused by problems with heart function and abnormalities of heart rhythm. The most common types of heart diseases are arrythmias such as atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, valvular disorders, and atherosclerosis.

Arrythmia describes an irregular heartbeat. Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood adequately. Arrythmia and congestive heart failure have suggestive symptoms, such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, and swollen legs.

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls that blocks blood flow. Unfortunately, early atherosclerotic heart diseases do not have symptoms, and often go unnoticed until a cardiovascular emergency occurs, such as a heart attack or angina.

That is why it’s so important to maintain heart health and do what you can to reduce the risk of heart disease and related medical emergencies.

If you are with someone who is experiencing a cardiovascular emergency, call 911 immediately. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of various cardiac emergencies and seek help as soon as possible. If the person stops breathing or has no pulse, initiate CPR. Remember– during a cardiovascular emergency, every second counts.

A common cardiovascular emergency to be aware of is a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. This occurs when part of the heart is not receiving oxygen or nutrients due to a blockage in one of the arteries. Someone who is experiencing a heart attack may suddenly clutch their chest or lose balance. Other warning signs include pain or discomfort in the chest, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and pain in the left arm.

While heart diseases and sudden heart episodes can be scary, there are ways to prevent them. Maintaining a healthy heart and preventing emergencies starts with maintaining overall health and reducing the risks of heart disease.

Traditional risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and a family history of premature coronary heart disease (younger than 55 in men, younger than 65 in women). Obesity or a sedentary lifestyle can increase the likelihood of some of these risk factors.

Diet plays an important role in the prevention of heart disease. Diets high in saturated fats, sugar, and salt can lead to high LDL cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Exercise is also crucial. By losing weight and creating lean body mass through exercise, you can directly lower your risk of diabetes and other cardiovascular conditions.

Preventative care also plays an important role in maintaining heart health. Regular cardiac screenings are recommended for people ages 50 and up. Preventative screenings performed by a healthcare professional can detect irregularities in the heart or blood flow before a patient develops symptoms. If you are younger than 50, but have one or more risk factors, inform your primary care physician, as they can help monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol, and individual risk level.

If you don’t have risk factors or symptoms and are in good health, cardiac screenings may not be necessary at this time. However, everyone should visit their primary care physician yearly for a physical exam, and get routine bloodwork done to ensure healthy cardiovascular function. Regardless of age, you should call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone you know is experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, or palpations.

To schedule an appointment with a Dr. Pilchik at one of his Westchester offices, call (914)-962-4000 or visit https://www.westchesterhealth.com/cardiology.

By Robert M. Pilchik, MD, FACC, Cardiology, Northwell Health Physician Partners, Westchester Health