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2/2/23 – What is Heart Disease?

Last updated: March 2, 2023

Hi, I’m Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the Health Officer for Anne Arundel County. Welcome to our Weekly Health Update. February is heart health month, a time to learn about heart disease and how you can prevent it.

What is heart disease?
Heart disease can refer to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease is called Coronary Artery Disease, which is when blood flow to the heart is reduced, which damages the heart and can cause a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Who is at risk for heart disease?
While heart disease can affect people of all ages, your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. A family history of heart disease in close relatives, like your parents or siblings, is also a risk factor. If you have a family history of heart disease, let your health care provider know.

What can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease?
Even though you can’t change your age or your family history, you can take a number of steps to reduce your risk from heart disease.

  • Eat Healthy: Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with each meal and limit the amounts of saturated and trans fats.
  • Get regular exercise: Get your heart rate up through moderate activity for 2 to 3 hours each week. An activity as simple as walking can improve your heart health.
  • Manage stress: If you’re feeling stressed, find ways to decrease your stress by getting exercise, talking to someone, or finding other ways to relax. Long term stress can increase your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, which are all risk factors for heart disease. Also, some of the unhealthy ways we deal with stress, like smoking or comfort foods, contribute to heart disease as well.
  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, now is a good time to quit.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Some of the symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Upper back or neck pain
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling in the feet or legs

Different people have different symptoms, and some people don’t have any symptoms. Women tend to have symptoms that aren’t recognized as heart disease. If you’re having any of these or other concerning symptoms, speak to your health care provider.

Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. We’ll see you next week.

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