Health officials: Show your heart some love

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

Proper management of blood pressure is crucial to heart health. One in three adults have high blood pressure but 21 percent have no clue they have it. | Courtesy photo


Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. More than 25 percent of all deaths are from heart disease, and it is a leading cause of disability.

“While heart disease can be a scary thing to think about, the implications of not thinking about it are even scarier,” said Amy Herrington RN, CEN Emerg-ency Depart-ment Director at Andal-usia Regional Hospital. “Tha-nkfully, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce a person’s chances of developing heart disease, all of which are included in the American Heart Association ‘Simple 7.’” Herrington explained the seven steps:

Get Active. Did you know that by exercising as few as 30 minutes per day, you can improve your heart health and quality of life? Studies show that for every hour of walking, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours, she said.

Eat Better. A healthy diet is one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. “A healthy diet also emphasizes paying attention to caloric intake and portion sizes, and making smart choices from every food group,” Herrington said.

Lose Weight. Among Americans age 20 and older, 145 million are overweight or obese (BMI of 25.0 kg/m2 and higher). “That’s 76.9 million men and 68.1 million women,” she said. “This is of great concern, because obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease.”

Control Cholesterol. Herrington said there are two types of cholesterol: “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL). “It’s important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of each in your blood,” she said. “A total cholesterol level over 200, a ‘good’ cholesterol level for someone under 40, or a ‘bad’ cholesterol level over 160 generally indicates an increased risk for heart disease.

“Don’t know your numbers?” she asked. “Talk to a doctor about a cholesterol screening.”

Manage Blood Pressure. Hypertension is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease.

One in three adults has high blood pressure, yet, about 21 percent don’t know they have it, as it is often symptom-less, Herrington said. Of those with high blood pressure, 69 percent are receiving treatment, yet, only 45 percent have their blood pressure under control, she said.

“High blood pressure that goes undetected or untreated can cause damage to the heart and coronary arteries, including heart attack, heart disease and congestive heart failure,” Herrington said. “It can also cause stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, memory loss, erectile dysfunction, fluid in the lungs and angina, which is chest discomfort from increased activity.

“On a positive note, high blood pressure is treatable, but it must be diagnosed and then monitored on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Reduce Blood Sugar. Diabetes is considered one of the major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes,” Herrington said. “If you have diabetes, it’s critical to monitor your blood sugar level and have regular check-ups. Work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your disease and control other risk factors.”

Stop Smoking. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States, she said.

“Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis – the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries – which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke,” Herrington said. “Controlling or reversing atherosclerosis is an important part of preventing future heart attack or stroke.”

To learn more about steps to improve your heart health and prevent heart disease, talk to your physician or visit