It is National Heart Health Month, a good time to look at the most common heart problems, their symptoms, and steps you can take to lower your risk of developing a heart problem.
The most common heart problems are fairly consistent throughout the nation. They include high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), coronary artery disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).
Each of these has a different effect on the heart but many of them share similar symptoms. Chest pain or tightness, fatigue, feeling out of breath, abnormal or fast heartbeats, even difficulty sleeping without pillows to prop you up can all indicate a developing heart problem. If you notice any of these symptoms in your life or that of a loved one, it is important to seek out medical treatment.
It’s also important to know that these symptoms can be different for men and women. For example, women are less likely to complain about chest pain as a symptom than men are. Instead, their symptoms are more likely to present as feeling abnormally tired or fatigued. The important takeaway is to pay attention to your body. If you notice a change that aligns with any of these symptoms, even if it feels minor, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
Causes of Heart Conditions
Many factors can increase your risk of developing a heart condition. A family history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk, as can smoking. In fact, if you are a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health today, right this second, would be to quit smoking.
This doesn’t just mean smoking tobacco. Traditional tobacco, marijuana, and vaping can all expose the heart to irritants and carcinogens that can be damaging over time.
The Link Between the Mind and the Heart
The mind and body are deeply connected. The relationship between cardiovascular and mental health can go both ways. Mental health problems like extreme or prolonged stress can release cortisol and epinephrine into your bloodstream, raising your heart rate and forcing your heart to work harder.
Conversely, having a heart condition can affect your mental health. A heart problem can make it more difficult to be active. Coming to terms with this new reality can be emotionally challenging, especially if physical activity was a big part of your life. The best option is to avoid heart problems in the first place. Here’s how.
Solutions and Prevention
While the idea of heart problems can be scary, it’s important to know that there are things you can do to lower your risk. Checking your blood press and cholesterol regularly can let you know if things aren’t going well. Blood pressure machines can be found at many pharmacies and regularly checking to make sure you are keeping your blood pressure at or below 120/80 can help you avoid increasing your risk of heart problems. Your doctor can order an easy blood test to check your cholesterol.
Integrating 30 minutes of exercise into your day can greatly increase both your physical and mental health, and keep your risk of heart problems low. Pairing exercise with a healthy diet is hugely important. A healthy diet is key to both your physical and mental health and integrating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (avoiding overly processed foods) can substantially improve your health. Not overeating and avoiding an excess of salt in your diet are two more important things to keep in mind.
If you are noticing changes that line up with the symptoms above, speak up. Ask for help. Medical professionals at MCHC Health Centers are happy to provide support you, so you can be happy, healthy, and heart-problem free.
Kaylee Schukei is a physician assistant at MCHC Health Centers, a community-based and patient-directed organization that serves Mendocino and Lake Counties, providing comprehensive primary healthcare services as well as supportive services such as education and translation that promote access to healthcare.