Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death in the United States. They are also the leading cause of disability.
One in four Americans will die from CVD, which include heart attacks, stroke, congestive heart failure, heart rhythm disorders, sudden cardiac death, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease and vascular diseases.
Many of these deaths and disabilities could have been avoided. Here are five simple things you can do to dramatically reduce your risk of CVD:
- Know your family history. A strong family history of CVD, especially at a young age (earlier than age 65), is a major warning sign that you are at high risk for CVD. Those who fail to understand the mistakes of history are prone to repeat them.
- Know your risk factors. Do you have diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, again a family history? Do you smoke? Do you have a chronic inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or a whole host of other autoimmune diseases?
If so, you are at high risk for CVD. And for you smokers, within a year of quitting smoking, you will have reduced your risk of CVD by 50 percent. Plus, think of all the money you are saving by not buying all those cigarettes.
- Know the symptoms. These include chest pain or discomfort, especially with activity; shortness of breath; unexplained fatigue; arm pain with exertion; back pain with exertion; jaw pain. Other symptoms of CVD would include dizziness, palpitations, and leg pain with walking.
All too frequently we see an older person who feels they are "slowing down" just because they are getting older. That might very well be the case, but often it also is a manifestation or symptom of CVD.
So, if you have a family history other risk factors, or have any of the above symptoms, see your primary care physician as soon as possible to address these issues.
- Exercise on a regular basis. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. Whether you have risk factors or not, this will dramatically reduce your risk of hypertension, diabetes and CVD. Thirty minutes, three to four times a week, is all it takes.
- Eat a healthy diet. This might sound like a broken record, but again, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. Obesity is a major epidemic in this country. I recommend the Mediterranean diet. It is great for people with hypertension, diabetes, CVD, and those who want to lose weight and keep the weight off. It's simple and easy to follow.
If you take these five simple steps, you are on your way to a much healthier lifestyle and a dramatic reduction in your risk of developing CVD.
Don't get me wrong- if you need to see a cardiologist, we will take great care of you. But our goal is that you never need to see us.
Lee Butterfield, MD, FACC, is a board-certified cardiologist at Beaufort Memorial Heart Specialists in Bluffton and Beaufort.