According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and stroke is ranked fifth worldwide. In the United States, more than one and three or 92.1 million adults have cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 807,775 deaths annually.
The Association also reports that approximately 790,000 people in the United States have heart attacks each year, with about 114,000 of those fatal.
The Center for Disease Control reports that one person dies every 36 minutes in the United States due to cardiovascular disease, one in every four deaths.
And one in five of these heart attacks is silent – the damage is done but the person is unaware it occurred.
The Center for Disease Control states that some have a greater risk of developing heart disease due to underlying conditions, genetics, and lifestyle choices. Those who have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are at a greater risk than those who do not have these secondary conditions. Also lifestyle choices like smoking, obesity, inactivity, and unhealthy diet can put someone at a greater risk for heart disease.
According to Dr. Keith Rushing with Winona Family Practice, a clinic operated by Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital, so many factors go into a person’s risk of heart disease – family history, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure – are all contributing factors in the path one takes in preventing heart disease.
Prevention is key to avoiding heart disease, and annual checkups with a physician becomes a necessity after the age of 30. If someone has greater risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, he recommends checkups every six months.
“If you are 25 years old, you should start going for checkups, and at 30 even more, and at 40 and 50 even more,” he said.
Rushing said a healthy lifestyle is at the heart of prevention.
“Avoid doing bad things,” Rushing said, partly in jest. “Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t stress. Eat an appropriate diet, and get daily exercise.”
Rushing said a healthy diet is low in fat and sodium. He also recommended 30-45 minutes of exercise daily.
“Go walking,” Rushing said. “That is a good place to start.”
He recommended a daily goal of two miles per day at a pace of 30-35 minutes, but “gradually work your way up.”
Rushing said stress can also increase a person’s risk of heart disease, and stress management should be taken seriously.
“Find something that makes you happy,” Rushing said. “Go to church – it makes you less stressed.”
He said that regular exercise is one of the best stress relievers.
Rushing said studies show getting plenty of sleep can also help reduce your risk for heart disease. He also said drinking a glass of water prior to bed and another upon waking is beneficial to heart health.
According to Rushing, educating yourself on healthy habits and collaborating with your physician can help achieve optimal health.
“Preventing heart disease never stops regardless of what age you are,” he said. “Call your doctor and tell him you would like to sit down and discuss your individual needs. Then you can determine what is good for you individually.”
This year, as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Heart Association is reporting studies that show a growing number of COVID-19 survivors experience some type of heart damage, even if they did not have an underlying condition prior to contracting the virus and did not have a severe case leading to hospitalization. Researchers are concerned this could cause an increase in heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, “researchers found abnormalities in the hearts of 78 percent recovered patients and ‘ongoing myocardial inflammation, in 60 percent. The same study found high levels of the blood enzyme troponin, an indicator of heart damage, in 76 percent of patients tested, although heart function appeared to be generally preserved. Most patients in the study had not required hospitalization.”
“There is a concern,” Rushing said. “With COVID-19, most people who get symptoms get over those, and that usually means your heart is okay. Even those who are hospitalized with the virus, they get better.”
However, some who have recovered from COVID-19 have shown damage or weakening of the heart muscles. However, like the virus itself, researchers have few answers as to whom will experience heart-related issues.
“Usually, this is caused by lowered oxygen that weakens the heart muscle,” Rushing said.
He explained that people who have recovered from the virus but continue to battle shortness of breath, have experienced chest pains, more frequent urination, and swollen legs could be showing signs of heart failure. In rare cases, someone could develop myocarditis, the direct inflammation of the heart muscles. Rushing said myocarditis can be caused by any virus, not just COVID-19. It is not a common occurrence, but it can cause permanent heart damage.
“I encourage anyone who had a significant case [of COVID-19] to follow up with their doctor,” Rushing said.
For those who experienced mild cases of COVID-19, particularly those who have diabetes or a heart condition, Rushing said they should also visit their doctors as a precaution.
“Those mild cases may not have gone to their doctors when they had the virus,” Rushing said. “It is important to talk to their doctor after.”
For those who continue to feel fatigue and shortness of breath after recovering from COVID-19 but feel better over time, it could be that someone is experiencing deconditioning due to limited physical activity while being ill. Rushing said in those circumstances, increasing physical activity will help in alleviating these symptoms.
Laura Wood, executive director of StaHome of Carroll, Montgomery, Grenada, Tallahatchie, and Yalobusha counties, said her company developed a program called, Right Path, that is based on best practices and years of experience and data. The program can decrease the likelihood of re-hospitalization of patients with heart failure.
“We don’t usually see people with heart issues without underlying issues like diabetes or high blood pressure or other secondary conditions,” Wood said.
With tools like telemonitoring and proper disease management and patient education, StaHome’s health professionals develop a program customized to each patient.
Nutrition education is necessary for those managing heart disease, especially sodium.
“High sodium in the quick and easy is a contributing factor in heart problems,” Wood said. “Sodium can be found in just about any food. It is about managing your sodium intake.”
Wood said her home health nurses are equipped to teach their patients good nutrition as well as provide help with meal planning and exercise options.
“Our therapists help develop light exercise programs for all our patients,” Wood said. “Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day is good for the heart and the mind. Even if you just get out in your yard and look at your flowers, or walk the dog. There is something you can do for all activity levels.”
Gay Hammond with Hammond’s Pharmacy and Gifts said managing prescribed drugs the right way is also important to heart health and avoiding further advancement of heart disease.
“People need to get their prescriptions refilled every month,” Hammond said. “Taking your prescriptions as directed is very important in overall health.”
Hammond said her pharmacy will sync all prescriptions to refill at the same time each month. She also offers delivery in Carroll and Montgomery counties to ensure patients continue taking medicine as prescribed.
Hammond said she and fellow pharmacists can work with patients and educate them on ways to decrease prescription costs and answer questions about their medicines.
For more information about heart health, visit www.heart.org.