The Essential Guide to Living with Heart Disease

Table of Contents

Introduction
Lifestyle Changes
Manage Your Risk Factors
Medications for Heart Disease
About Aspirin
Special Procedures
The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Join Support Groups
Outlook

Introduction

Nothing kills more American men and women per year than heart disease. In fact, almost 630,000 American men and women die from heart disease each year. Approximately every 40 seconds someone has a heart attack, which is a dreaded complication from coronary artery disease (CAD).

Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing heart disease along with its accompanying risk of disability and death.

Lifestyle Changes

If you are high risk or have already been diagnosed with heart disease, lifestyle changes are the cornerstones of any treatment plan.

Healthy Diet

The first lifestyle change should be subscribing to a healthy diet.

The typical American diet is high in salt, saturated fats, carbohydrates, and sugar — all of which contribute to the development of heart disease. As a result, you should minimize your dietary intake of these substances, while you should maximize your intake of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

A low-fat, low-calorie diet is ideal. Examples of heart-healthy eating plans are the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet.

Exercise

The second recommended lifestyle change would be to get regular physical exercise.

Current guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week, with a target goal of at least 150 minutes per week. Any form of exercise that gets your heart pumping is most likely to be beneficial, with aerobic exercise being the best. Examples of some beneficial aerobic exercises include swimming, mowing the lawn, bicycling, jogging/running, and walking at a brisk pace.

Regular exercise will strengthen the pumping ability of the heart. Plus, it’ll increase the levels of oxygen circulating in the blood, a fact that your organs and tissues will appreciate.

Quit Smoking

Smoking increases your blood pressure and decreases levels of oxygen in the blood. As such, the third and final universal recommendation for lifestyle change is to quit smoking — or avoid it altogether if you are currently a non-smoker — which has the potential to significantly improve your health.

If you want to quit smoking, speak with your doctor, as there are medications that can help with smoking cessation. In addition to quitting cold turkey, there are nicotine replacement products—such as patches, gums, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers — and non-nicotine based prescription medications, like varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban), that help.

Also, make sure to avoid e-cigarettes or vaping. In fact, most health care professionals agree that they are not effective as smoking cessation aids.

Manage Your Risk Factors

The CDC estimates that 47 percent of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Well-established risk factors for the development of heart disease include:

  • Poor diet;
  • Lack of exercise;
  • Smoking;
  • Having metabolic syndrome/diabetes;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Being overweight/obesity, and;
  • High cholesterol.

By managing/controlling your risk factors, you can significantly slash your risk of developing heart disease and its accompanying complications. The lifestyle changes discussed above are key to managing most of the well-known risk factors for heart disease.

Medications for Heart Disease

The treatment of heart disease largely depends on the type of heart disease you have, as well as how far it has advanced. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you made need medications to manage the condition.

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors widen, or dilate, your blood vessels. You may be given this class of medication if you have a history of high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, or heart attack.

Examples of ACE inhibitors include lisinopril (Zestril), benazepril (Lotensin), and ramipril (Altace).

Noted side effects of ACE inhibitors are chronic cough and swelling of the neck, face, and tongue.

Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers

Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are related to ACE inhibitors. As such, they work in a similar fashion. Doctors typically prescribe them if you can’t tolerate an ACE inhibitor.

Examples of ARBs include irbesartan (Avapro), losartan (Cozaar), and valsartan (Diovan).

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers slow down your heart rate, causing it to beat less forcefully. They are useful for treating high blood pressure, heart failure, and abnormal heart rhythms, along with preventing future heart attacks.

Examples of beta-blockers include atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor), and propranolol (Inderal).

If you have diabetes or asthma in addition to heart disease, you may not be a candidate for treatment with this class of medication, as it increases your blood sugar and can exacerbate asthma.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) work by relaxing your blood vessels to reduce your heart’s workload. This may be useful for the treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, chest pain, and arrhythmias.

Examples of CCBs include amlodipine (Norvasc), diltiazem (Cardizem), and nifedipine (Procardia).

Nitrates

You may be prescribed nitrates if you have chest pain or heart failure.

Examples of nitrates include nitroglycerin (Nitrostat), isosorbide dinitrate (Isordil), and isosorbide mononitrate (Monoket).

About Aspirin

Since the 1970s, low doses of aspirin (e.g., 81 mg/day) have been used in the management of heart disease. Aspirin prevents blood clots and reduces both inflammation and your risk of death. For many years, a daily dose of aspirin has been considered an easy way to prevent a heart attack or stroke — two of the most dreaded complications of heart disease.

There is no doubt that daily aspirin is beneficial for individuals who already have had a heart attack or stroke or who have undergone heart bypass surgery or stent placement. These individuals are considered to belong to the high-risk category of patients since they already have cardiovascular disease.

But what about those individuals who are at low to intermediate risk for heart disease?

In this subset of patients, low-dose aspirin is not currently recommended, which is a departure from recommendations in the past. It is now felt that the risks of taking daily aspirin outweigh the benefit of preventing a first heart attack or stroke.

Researchers feel a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol are the best options for preventing a first heart attack or stroke, which is termed “primary” prevention. As a result, please consult your doctor before embarking on an aspirin regimen.

Special Procedures

In the late 1970s, doctors began using coronary angioplasty to treat heart disease, specifically CAD. CAD is the narrowing or blockage of arteries in the heart.

First, they perform a cardiac catheterization. Doctors insert a catheter into an artery in the groin and guided up into the blood vessels of the heart. Next, doctors inject a dye and take X-rays, in order to look for any blockages. If significant narrowing or blockage is observed, your doctor will then perform angioplasty by using a balloon to open up the blocked artery and place a permanent metal stent to re-establish blood flow to the region of the heart previously lacking it.

Often referred to as “balloon” angioplasty or percutaneous cardiac intervention, this procedure can be lifesaving.

The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked, usually by a clot. It may produce the following warning signs:

  • Chest pain, pressure, tightness, or squeezing;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Nausea;
  • Fatigue;
  • Cold sweats, and;
  • Dizziness.

If you or someone you know has chest pain, especially if it is accompanied by any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should call 911 for help.

Join Support Groups

There are many support groups for people with heart disease. A support group may offer extra information, affirmation, emotional support, and maybe even friendship, which your health care team cannot.

Most doctors and nurses don’t have the time to answer health questions and address more personal issues. A support group can provide tips from those with first-hand knowledge and help you learn the latest about managing your condition.

The difference a support group can make in your mental and physical well-being will amaze you.

Outlook

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, there are measures you can take to decrease its impact.

Wholesale lifestyle changes and managing your heart disease risk factors have the potential to slash your risk by almost 80 percent. With prevention and early intervention, the health and economic impact of heart disease can be diminished.

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

Related Articles

Jul 19, 2019