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Preventing Heart Disease

Heart disease remains the primary cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

Prevention is especially important for conditions like heart disease, because in the early stages this disease usually has no symptoms. As the disease progresses, a patient may exhibit high blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. In advanced stages, chest, arm, or jaw pain may occur (especially after physical activity), as well as palpitations and shortness of breath. However, some patients do not have any significant symptoms until they have a heart attack.

Atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty deposits (called plaque) within the walls of the arteries, is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." As plaque grows, it hinders the flow of blood that carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The tiny arteries that thread through the heart and nourish it with blood are particularly susceptible to plaque accumulation. If any of them become blocked, a heart attack can occur.

The primary cause of heart disease is high blood cholesterol levels. LDL (bad) cholesterol sticks to artery walls, eventually leading to plaque growth. A host of factors can contribute to plaque build-up, including a diet high in fats and cholesterol, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and stress.

Current research indicates that most Americans over the age of 50 exhibit varying levels of plaque in their cardiac arteries. At St. Anthony's Hospital, prevention is a vital part of our mission to treat the nation's leading cause of mortality. As we strive to improve the health of the communities we serve, we support a comprehensive approach to care that includes teaching heart-healthy lifestyle choices.

Basic forms of heart disease prevention:

  • Regulating blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Eliminate smoking - secondhand smoke also increases risk for heart disease.
  • Exercise (30 minutes a day, 4 to 7 days a week). Our Wellness Center offers many programs to help you manage your weight
  • Adopting a heart-healthy diet
     - Eat lean meats and low-fat dairy products, and at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Avoid or reduce foods with saturated fats and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Soluble fiber found in oats, beans and citrus fruits can help control cholesterol, as can salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, or other fish with omega-3 fatty acids.
    - Multi-vitamins have proven to be helpful, as have supplements with grape seed extract, flaxseed oil and fish oils. Most vitamins are safe to use with prescription drugs for heart disease-except for vitamin E and fish oils, which may interact with anticoagulants. People 60 and over should not take supplements with iron without the advice of their doctors. Before taking any supplements, please consult with your physician.

A word about weight

According to the National Institute of Health, an increase in 20 percent or more above your "ideal" body weight is the point at which excess weight becomes a health risk.

Morbid obesity, also called "clinically severe obesity," is a chronic disease that is defined by being 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight. Research has shown that genetics are a significant underlying cause for those who are morbidly obese, and special treatments (often surgery) are required in addition to healthy lifestyle and dietary choices.

St. Anthony's Hospital offers comprehensive medical and surgical options for weight loss.

For more information about the heart care services at St. Anthony's Hospital, please call (727) 825-1111.