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Lower your risj for heart disease
Health advice
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If I told you someone has a heart attack every 20 seconds in America and someone dies from a cardiovascular problem every minute, and I listed the risk factors, would you get angry with me or at yourself?
The first thing many of you would probably do is to get defensive and turn that conversation around. And you certainly have the right to do that. However, the truth is, just talking about it isn’t doing anything to decrease anyone’s risks.
We all have to be more proactive about what we put in our bodies and about the amount of consistent physical activity we engage in. I’m as guilty as anyone about convincing myself that I’m too busy to exercise. Dr. William Cooper, an Atlanta cardiovascular surgeon, made a very good point in the news the other day. He said there are 168 hours in a week and we only need to exercise for three of them.
Healthy food, vitamin supplements and physical activity can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but the following risk factors are things we have to work around:
• Increasing age
• Heredity (including race): Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African-Americans have high blood pressure more often than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans. Just as you can’t control your age and race, you can’t control your family history.
• Being male used to be a risk factor but women now account for 52.8 percent of the total heart disease deaths.
The following are risk factors we can do something about:
• Tobacco: A smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death — smokers have about twice the risk of nonsmokers.
• High blood cholesterol: A person’s cholesterol level is affected by age, sex, heredity and diet.
• High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. It also increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
• Physical inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater the benefits. Even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly and long-term. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.
• Obesity and overweight: People with excess body fat — especially if a lot of it is at the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart’s work. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels; and it lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
• Diabetes: Diabetes seriously increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well-controlled.
Other factors that may contribute to heart disease risk:
• Stress: Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person’s life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status.
• Alcohol abuse or drinking can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke.  

Important warning signs

Heart attack: If you or someone you’re with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don’t wait longer than a few minutes before calling 911. Don’t try to drive someone who might be having a heart attack to the hospital. EMTs are trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too.
• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.  
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.  
• Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.  
• Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Stroke: If you or someone with you has one or more of these signs, call 911 immediately. Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.  
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
Cardiac arrest: This strikes immediately and without warning. If cardiac arrest occurs, call 911 and begin CPR immediately. If an automated external defibrillator is available and someone trained to use it is nearby, involve them. Here are the signs:
• Sudden loss of responsiveness. No response to gentle shaking.
• No normal breathing. The victim does not take a normal breath when you check for several seconds.
• No signs of circulation. No movement or coughing.
February is American Heart Month and Friday is “wear red day,” so please join us in making sure that we, and everyone around us, is educated about heart disease, its symptoms and what we need to do to protect ourselves. Wear red Friday to encourage others to live a healthier heart lifestyle.
This material came from the American Heart Association (

Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.
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