Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. But it is also one of the most preventable diseases.
“It’s human nature to assume that nothing’s going to happen to you,” said Scott & White cardiologist, John P. Erwin, III, MD, FACC. “But eventually we all will develop health problems, and ignoring [your risks] doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be struck by it at some point.”
So, how do you know what your risk is for developing heart disease or having a heart attack?
Dr. Erwin said the biggest risk factors are:
- Advancing age
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being sedentary
- Genetic predisposition – a family history of heart disease
“If patients don’t know their numbers (blood pressure, Body Mass Index and cholesterol), then we recommend that they come in and get those numbers because those are generally the best prognostic factors to let us know if someone is at risk of having a heart attack in the next few years.”
The cardiologist said some of the conditions that can cause an increased risk of heart disease can be controlled by medications.
But even though there are medications available to decrease the risk of having a heart attack, Dr. Erwin said the best way is really to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“In this country, somebody that’s born today will most likely die from heart disease.”
“Eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis are going to be the two best ways to ward off heart disease,” he said.
To help you remember ways to prevent heart disease, the American Heart Association created the ABCs of heart attack prevention.
A – Avoid Tobacco
B – Become more active
C – Choose good nutrition
Following those rules seems simple enough, but more people are having heart attacks every day.
“In this country, somebody that’s born today will most likely die from heart disease,” Dr. Erwin said.
And according to the cardiologist, heart attack patients are getting younger.
“Every time I’m on the intensive care unit service, I’m seeing more than one person who’s in their 20s and 30s coming in there with heart attacks,” he said. “And I think the biggest reason is that life’s gotten really easy for us.”
Most of us spend a good portion of the day in air conditioning, sitting in front of a computer, he said. So, people are going to have to be more proactive than previous generations.
Dr. Erwin said that if patients are willing to work with their doctors and try and improve their health, then they can lower their risk of having a heart attack.
“I saw one of my patients who had recently had a heart attack back in clinic, and I said, it’s good to see you today. He said it’s much better to be seen than viewed. I think that’s a pretty good point.”
Below is a list of symptoms that can help you determine if you are having a heart attack.
Signs Of A Heart Attack
- Progressive, heavy tight discomfort in chest, neck, jaw, arm and/or back
- Shortness of breath
- Sweatiness, called diaphoresis
- Undue fatigue
If you suspect you are having a heart attack, call 911. Half of all heart muscle lost happens in the first hour of having a heart attack. Don’t wait. Seek medical assistance immediately.
For more information about heart disease and heart attack prevention, visit heart.org.
Do you have a story about overcoming a heart attack? Tell us how and what you learned from your experience.