Ask a Health Care Professional – Health Tips to Stay Young at Heart

By Latha Raja Shankar, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico

February is American Heart Month – a great time to raise awareness of the risks associated with heart disease as well as the preventive measures that can keep your heart healthy as you age.

In the United States alone, someone dies from heart disease every 33 seconds. It’s sometimes called the “silent killer” because roughly half of those who perish don’t experience symptoms and don’t know they are at risk.

Heart disease risk factors
There are many risk factors associated with heart disease. High blood pressure or hypertension is an important one. Approximately 44 percent of women and 47 percent of men have high blood pressure.

Other risk factors include diabetes, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, high levels of stress, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, excess weight and high cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoprotein).

Different types of heart disease
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. When plaque builds on the walls of blood vessels, the vessels narrow, reducing blood supply to the heart. Over time, coronary artery disease can weaken the heart and cause the heart to fail. For some, the first clue of this disease is chest pain or even heart attack.

Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, happens when there is not enough blood supply to the heart. Be aware of the major symptoms of a heart attack:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • breaking out into a cold sweat
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, one or both arms, and/or shoulders
  • shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)

Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms.

Heart disease prevention
It’s crucial to be aware of your family’s history of heart disease and to proactively manage the risks associated with coronary artery disease, heart attack and heart failure.

Having uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease. Because high blood pressure and high cholesterol are symptom-less, it’s important to test, be aware of the results and understand how to manage your health. Schedule time with your provider or health care team to be tested for all risks associated with heart disease, including diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease or failure include making healthful food choices, getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, sleeping well and managing stress effectively. If you smoke, please quit and limit your alcohol intake.

There’s so much you can do to protect your heart and stay healthy. By understanding the risks and taking preventive measures, you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease and improve your overall heart health and wellbeing.

If you have a health question that you would like to be considered in Ask a Health Care Professional, please email [email protected]. BCBSNM will select questions that may appear. Questions will not be personally answered. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of BCBSNM. This column is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care.

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