Heart disease is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the heart, such as coronary artery disease and congenital heart defects. These diseases claim nearly 600,000 lives every year in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There isn’t one type of treatment for heart disease. Treatment depends on the underlying cause since there are many conditions that affect the heart. Your doctor may suggest:
- lifestyle changes
- medical procedures
- a combination of two or more treatments
Although your family history, age, and ethnicity can impact your risk for heart disease, healthy living can improve and prevent a variety of conditions that affect the heart.
Smoking can raise blood pressure and increase your risk of blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Discuss ways to quit smoking with your doctor. There are prescription medications and support groups available.
Get Physically Active
An inactive lifestyle is a major risk factor for heart disease. However, you can improve your heart health with regular physical activity. Benefits of exercise include:
- strengthening the cardiovascular system
- improving blood flow to the heart
- lowering blood pressure
- improving symptoms of heart failure
According to the CDC, the Surgeon General recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two hours and 30 minutes every week.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
If you’re diagnosed with heart disease, a healthy diet can improve your condition and reduce the risk of complications. Your doctor may recommend lowering your salt and fat intake. These changes can keep cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level. A heart-healthy diet includes:
- eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- avoiding sugary drinks
- choosing low-fat dairy products
- eating lean meats, such as poultry and fish
Reducing your daily salt intake can improve symptoms of heart failure. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day. Also, men should consume no more than two alcohol drinks per day, and women no more than one.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can also cause heart disease. You may be able to prevent and treat this condition by managing your weight and losing extra pounds. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NLB) recommends a body mass index (BMI) of no more than 25 and a waist size of no more than 35 inches. Discuss ways to manage weight with your doctor, such as exercising and cutting calories.
Research shows a connection between stress and heart disease. Sudden and severe stressful events can trigger cardiac reactions in some people (broken heart syndrome). Some people turn to unhealthy habits that affect the heart when with dealing with stress, like smoking and overeating.
Practice techniques like deep breathing and exercise to reduce your stress. Your doctor may also recommend activities like relaxation therapy or yoga to keep stress under control. There are also medications available to help manage stress levels.
Sometimes, heart disease does not improve with lifestyle changes. Your doctor may prescribe medication if your symptoms don’t improve, or if they worsen. Medications to treat heart conditions include:
- ACE inhibitors, which stop blood vessels from narrowing and improve symptoms of heart failure
- calcium-channel blockers, which relax blood vessels and lower high blood pressure
- diuretics, which remove excess fluid and salt from the body and lower blood pressure
- blood cholesterol-lowering drugs, which help reduce the risk of heart disease or heart events
- blood thinners (anticoagulants), which prevent blood clots and improve blood flow to the heart
- antibiotics prescribed to treat heart infections
There are also a number of medical procedures that can be used to treat heart disease.
An angioplasty procedure opens a blocked or narrow coronary artery. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube with an attached balloon through a blood vessel in your groin. They then guide the tube to the blocked artery and inflate the balloon. This opens the artery and restores blood flow. A stent may be used to keep the artery open after the procedure.
Coronary artery bypass is a type of surgery. A surgeon moves a blood vessel from one part of your body (such as the leg, arm, or chest) and connects it to arteries in your heart in order to bypass a diseased or blocked blood vessel. This procedure can improve blood flow to your heart, stop chest pain, and reduce the risk of heart attack.
Your doctor may suggest cardiac rehabilitation if you have had a heart procedure or have suffered a heart attack. Medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation can help strengthen your heart muscles and also increase your stamina and sense of well being.
Understanding your risks for heart disease and getting diagnosed is only the beginning. To improve your outlook and avoid a heart attack or heart failure, you need to make lifestyle choices that can strengthen your heart and improve symptoms. Follow your doctor’s advice regarding medication or surgery.