When it comes to affairs of the heart, Valentine's Day typically comes to mind. But there's another day, September 29, World Heart Day, that's equally, if not more, important.
"This day is set aside each year to promote heart health," explains Zankhana Raval, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Holy Name Medical Center.
Cardiovascular disease is the world's number-one killer today, according to the World Heart Federation. But it doesn't have to be. "World Heart Day is meant to promote just a few small changes to our lives that can make a big difference in reducing our risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular complications," says Dr. Raval.
First and foremost, she says, it's important to know and understand your risk. Research shows many people, especially women, do not consider themselves at high risk for heart disease, and so are less likely to address their risk factors.
Risk factors include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure (prehypertension/hypertension)
- High blood sugar levels (pre-diabetes/diabetes)
- Being overweight
- Central obesity (having a large waist)
These and other risk factors can increase the workload and stress on the heart, and can lead to weakened pumping function and/or narrowing of the arteries.
"You want to think about the heart as three systems: the pump, the wiring, and the plumbing," says Dr. Raval. "All three systems are crucial and need to be functioning properly so you can function properly."
Problems in the pumping system can lead to conditions such as congestive heart failure, which may require medications, devices, or surgery to restore function. Problems in the wiring of the heart can lead to fast or slow heart rhythms, which may require testing and treatment from an electrophysiologist (a specialized heart doctor).
In contrast, a heart attack happens when there is a "plumbing problem," when the arteries to the heart become severely blocked. This may require medications, stress testing, stenting, or even surgery to improve blood flow.
So how do you know if something is wrong with your heart? Not all cardiovascular problems cause chest pain like you might assume. There are many more subtle symptoms, including fatigue, a change in activity level, nausea, lightheadedness, and discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back. Some people may think they're experiencing heartburn or even anxiety. If you're in doubt and don't feel well, call 9-1-1 immediately.
"Even if you think you're too healthy for a heart attack, or too young for one, or too embarrassed, or don't want to make a fuss, please go to the hospital, go see your doctor, don't wait," says Dr. Raval.
The sooner you work with a team of healthcare providers to develop a strategy for preventing risk factors and keeping an eye on the ones you may already have, the better. There are many prevention and treatment options today, including medications, lifestyle changes, and non-invasive procedures that can save your life.
So on World Heart Day, The World Heart Federation is asking you to make a promise: a promise to cook and eat more healthily, say no to smoking, exercise more, and give a little more love to your heart.
Holy Name Medical Center's comprehensive cardiac program includes a continuum of care from preventive and diagnostic monitoring to treatment and rehabilitation services, with the goal of detecting and treating cardiac disease before it becomes life-threatening. For more information on our cardiovascular services, please call 201-833-3211 or visit: CardiovascularServices/