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Health Information | 02/08/2022

Managing Heart Disease

By  Dr. Tu-Mai Tran
Heart disease is a condition that affects your blood vessels and arteries, as well as your body’s ability to transport blood from your heart to other organs. As the leading cause of death in the United States, a heart disease diagnosis can feel scary and overwhelming.

The good news is that heart disease is manageable, and many people live healthy, full lives by making small but consistent lifestyle changes. If you’re concerned about heart disease, read on to learn more about what to look out for and ways to improve your overall health.

Types of Heart Disease

There are several types of heart disease that can be caused by a variety of factors. Some you may be born with, or others you develop later in life. These include:
  • Coronary Heart Disease is due to an increased amount of cholesterol in the inner walls of your arteries, creating plaques and blockages. These plaques disrupt your blood’s ability to supply vital oxygen to your heart muscle.
  • Cardiomyopathy happens when your heart muscles become impaired, leading to the thickening of your heart walls. This makes it difficult for your heart to pump out blood properly.
  • Heart Failure happens when coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, or arrhythmias go untreated. Heart failure is life threatening, as it affects your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout your body.
  • Arrhythmias cause heartbeat irregularities when the electrical signals in your heart function incorrectly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slowly, or irregularly.
  • Valvular Heart Disease is present when any valve in the heart has damage or is diseased. The malfunctioning heart valve can be congenital or caused by infection. This results in poor blood flow and can impact your heart’s ability to function properly.
  • Congenital Heart Defects happen at birth and may include weakening heart valves or abnormal artery structure.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Some heart diseases are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Knowing these factors can help you and your provider develop the best possible treatment and maintenance plan.

Some of the genetic factors that increase your risk for heart disease include:

  • Family history: You are at a greater risk of developing heart disease if a close family member developed heart disease at an early age.
  • Age: As we get older, the risk of developing heart disease rises.
  • Sex: Heart disease affects men and women differently. Women are more likely to experience heart issues if they also have diabetes.
  • Race and Ethnicity: Various research has identified links between race, ethnicity, and the likelihood of developing heart disease. Specifically, African Americans are at a higher risk of developing heart disease in their lifetime.
Additionally, things like smoking, excessive drinking, stress, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity can negatively affect your heart health and make it harder to manage and treat your heart disease.

How can you manage your heart disease?

Treating and managing heart disease looks different for everyone. In some cases, medications can improve your well-being and heart function significantly. In rare circumstances, surgery may be necessary to improve the way your heart functions. However, a key factor in keeping your heart disease in check is adopting healthy lifestyle habits that help your heart function. There are reversible cardiac risk factors that you have control to modify. These include:

Quit or reduce smoking People who smoke are at a greater risk for high blood pressure, arrhythmia, and other forms of heart disease. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease and you smoke, reducing the amount you smoke or quitting altogether can help improve your heart health and stop more damage from occurring.

Limit alcohol consumption Excessive drinking leads to increased blood pressure and can also increase your risk of having a stroke. Alcohol can also weaken your heart muscles, making it harder to pump blood throughout your body. Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink ensures your heart can function properly.

Exercise regularly
Along with benefiting your overall health, regular exercise is beneficial for your heart. Like any muscle, walking, swimming, dancing, or other forms of cardiovascular exercise helps strengthen your heart and improve its ability to pump blood.

Prioritize proper nutrition
Proper nutrition is the most effective way to help manage heart disease because it helps promote healthy weight loss and management. In general, you should avoid processed foods that contain artificial ingredients, saturated fats, and high amounts of added sugar or salt. When choosing what to eat, consider opting for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken or turkey, and complex carbs like whole-grain bread and beans. A heart-healthy diet can help lower high cholesterol levels, which are attributed to arterial clogging, and keep your heart healthy.

While heart disease can be challenging to live with, small and steady lifestyle changes can make a significant impact on your heart health. If you want to make lifestyle changes and don’t know where to start, your Atrius Health provider can help you design the best plan for you and your goals.

About The Author

Dr. Tu-Mai Tran

Dr. Tu-Mai Tran joined Atrius Health in 2021 and is a board-certified family medicine provider and chief of internal medicine and family medicine at our Harvard Vanguard Quincy location. She received her medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Tran completed her residency at Brown Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, RI, and her fellowship at Boston University School of Public Health. Her clinical interests include women’s health, integrative medicine, weight management, and performing office-based procedures, including joint injections, excisions, and IUD placements.

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