Getting woken up in the darkness of early morning by afamily member saying, “I’m having chest pain” is not the start of a good day for either party. The panic of that moment starts a rush of adrenaline and a call to action. Unfortunately, many people have been through that moment with somehaving good outcomes and others not so good. In this American Heart Month, there are plenty of ways to improve heart health inthe hopes that we never have to hear those words or say them to others.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UnitedStates. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD) which affects blood flow to the heart. CAD occurs when plaque, which is fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits, builds up in the coronary arteries and causesa narrowing of one or more of them. This plaque reduces blood flow to the heartand can cause partial or completely clogged arteries. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary, but many times there is chest pain which can feel like a tightness, pressure, or ache along with other symptoms such as fatigue,heartburn, dizziness, nausea and/or shortness of breath. Women may have symptoms to a lesser degree with jaw or neck pain, fatigue, and nausea. These can all be signs of an impending heart attack.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent or treat some forms of heart disease. It is important to see your health care provider on a regular basis for physical examinations, lab studies, and medications when needed. Sometimes heart disease can be found early.
What do we have the power to control?
High blood pressure (hypertension) – see your health care provider regularly as high blood pressure sometimes has no symptoms, take medication as prescribed, watch the amount of salt that is consumed in your diet
High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) – take medication as prescribed, eat healthy with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, watch salt, cholesterol, and fat in foods
Tobacco use – get help to quit smoking by using over-the-counter products or discuss with your health care provider for a prescription, avoid secondhand smoke in your home and car
Stress – can be managed many different ways including talking to friends/family/therapist, finding solutions to current problems, getting plenty of sleep, meditate, deep breathing, eating healthy, and physical activity (can break the symptom of stress at that moment)
Food choices – make dietary modifications for a healthy diet - reduced sodium, increased fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free/low fat milk products, healthy oils, lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, reduce sweets and other added sugars, DASH diet, Mediterranean diet
Physical activity – current guidelines aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity weekly and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity
Weight – healthy eating and physical activity will help keep weight in the healthy range
What are risk factors that cannot be controlled?
Age (the risk goes up as you age)
Family history of heart attacks
The risk for heart disease increases even more when heredity is combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices
The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD).
Some of the risk factors that can be controlled are eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, reducing stress, not smoking, and taking prescribed medication for high blood pressure and highcholesterol.
Risk factors that cannot be controlled are age and family history.
See a health care provider on a regular basis to identify health issues early.
Disparities exist when race, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors are taken into account. Community Health Workers (CHWs) have a role inhelping to close that gap. CHWs are frontline, public health workers who connect individuals and families to health care and social services. They may work in urban or rural environments and with low-income, minority, immigrant, and underserved communities. By helping to educate patients and clients on the controllable items in the risk factors, they can help reduce the chance of heart disease. CHWs are becoming more prevalent in underserved communities and even on care teams. Some of the ways that CHWs could help specifically with heart disease are:
Aid patients/clients obtain needed medications
Assist in accessing healthy food
Promote physical activity using resources in the patient/client’s community
Support a smoke-free lifestyle and assist with tobacco cessation
Educate the patient/client with self-management, care coordination, and stress management support
Navigate the health care system, including health insurance enrollment and appropriate use of services
PTI has a Community Health Worker Program that teaches the core competency skills and health knowledge needed to function as a CHW to promote healthy lifestyles. See our website for more information. https://transformcoach.org/learning-solutions/community-health-worker-chw-program/
National Wear Red Day is February 2, 2024. Wear red to helpraise awareness of this number one killer. Motivate others to protect their hearts by learning their risks and making lifestyle changes. Make time forself-care. There is no one like you. Go Red!