Heart Health: Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States and numbers of individuals diagnosed with cardiovascular disease is on the rise. Also on the rise are expensive procedures like open-heart bypass surgeries, angioplasty, stint placements and heart transplants. Luckily, skilled cardiovascular surgeons perform thousands of life saving procedures daily, offering individuals a second chance to improved their cardiovascular health.

Routine check ups at your physicians office can help to pinpoint and prevent triggers for cardiovascular disease.

The following is a cardiovascular checklist to keep your heart in shape:

Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of force needed for the hearth to push blood through your blood vessels. When blood vessels become clogged with plaque or begin to stiffen, blood pressure can increase. Normal blood pressure is considered to be between 120/80 mmhg. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is diagnosed at a physician’s office after consecutive blood pressure readings of 140/90 mmhg.

When blood pressure rises, the workload on the heart rises. This can lead to hypertrophy, or enlarging of the heart muscle. Consider weight lifting, the heavier weights you lift, the bulkier the muscle mass. This is great for your biceps, however, not when it comes to your heart. The larger the heart the weaker the heart becomes and this increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

One of the best ways to improve elevated blood pressure is through regular exercise. Even 20 minutes of walking at a moderate pace can have a beneficial blood pressure lowering effect. Diet changes, specifically increasing magnesium rich foods can have an affect on blood pressure. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on blood vessels, allowing blood vessels to become flexible, which permits blood to flow at a normal pressure. The typical American diet is low in magnesium, consider ramping up magnesium rich foods like dark greens, nuts and seeds to help with blood pressure management.

Blood Sugar
Chronically elevated blood sugar, hyperglycemia, leads to damage of blood vessels. Specifically, the blood vessels of the eyes and extremities like in the hands and feet. This is one reason diabetics with uncontrolled blood sugar levels are at a higher risk of blindness and amputation of limbs. Testing for blood sugar levels annually is the best way to screen for hyperglycemia.

Eating protein and fiber rich foods and reducing sugar in the diet can help to maintain blood sugar levels. While there are many foods that assist in blood sugar stabilization, cinnamon specifically helps to regulate insulin, the hormone that turns sugar into energy. Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal, into smoothies or into your soup for a blood sugar benefiting effect!

Screening for elevated cholesterol levels, hypercholesterolemia, is essential for cardiovascular health. Lifestyle factors like diet and exercise and genetic predisposition play a role in cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a fat substance that is essential for cellular make up, nervous system protection and hormone manufacturing to name a few. Cholesterol is produced in the liver or absorbed through the diet.

When total cholesterol is elevated, it is helpful to look at what types of cholesterol is elevated and where it is coming from. This helps to further determine the best treatment.

HDL cholesterol, high density lipoprotein, is considered the “good” cholesterol. This type of cholesterol works to protect the cardiovascular system by removing harmful cholesterol called LDL.

LDL cholesterol, low density lipoprotein, is consider the “bad” cholesterol. This form of cholesterol is known to plaque arteries and contribute to heart disease. LDL cholesterol comes in several types, some forms more readily plaque arteries than others. Testing can be run to investigate the specific types of LDL cholesterol you are made up of, further pinpointing the best management of LDL reduction therapy.

Triglycerides are the fat stores in the body. When calories ingested are not used they are stored as triglycerides for later use. Continual over eating, lack of exercise and other factors play a role in increased triglycerides.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breath holding occurs while sleeping. Apnea can range from moderate to severe depending on the amount of times breathing stops in the night. Symptoms include snoring, waking abruptly and often in the night, excessive fatigue in the day and headaches. Sleep apnea causes a lower than normal amount of oxygen to get to the brain which signals for the blood pressure to increase.

Low blood oxygen levels creates stress on the cardiovascular system, contributing to cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea affects both men and women of all body sizes. A physician specializing in sleep medicine can evaluate the risk of apnea and can perform a sleep study to diagnose and treat accordingly.

Cardiovascular disease is a preventable, treatable and manageable. Consider talking to your physician about your risk and ways to treat and manage risk factors.

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