Heart disease is an umbrella term that refers to various conditions where the heart and blood vessels are not working properly. The most common heart condition is coronary heart disease which involves the blocking or narrowing of the blood vessels by plaque buildup. Plaque is made of substances found in the blood such as fat and cholesterol. In addition to coronary heart disease, plaque buildup may lead to a heart attack, stroke, or chest pain.
Some health conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes may increase your risk of developing heart disease. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, occurs when plaque narrows the blood vessels and the heart has to work harder to pump blood. This constant excess pressure can weaken the vessels over time. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is prevalent in the Asian American community, affecting about one in five Asian Americans. You are also more at risk for heart disease if you have an unhealthy lifestyle which may include smoking, excessive alcohol use, uncontrolled stress, and/or not exercising regularly. In addition, genetics and family history play a significant role in your risk for heart disease. If you have a family member with heart disease, it is important to get screened and have a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk of developing the disease.
Often referred to as a “silent killer,” heart disease does not usually show signs until the disease has progressed to a serious state. Some people only learn of their condition after a severe incident such as a heart attack or stroke. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness that does not go away with rest
- Feeling weak or light-headed
- Breaking out into a “cold sweat”
- Pain in the upper body including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea/vomiting or dizziness
Fortunately, there are many ways to significantly lower your chances of developing heart disease or to reverse a current heart condition. To work towards being heart healthy, you can do the following:
- Get screened - Make sure to get your routine blood work and your blood pressure checked. Talk to your doctor about how often you should get these screenings.
- Eat a healthy diet - Changing your eating habits can significantly reduce your chance of getting heart disease. Remember to read nutrition labels and choose healthier options that lower your sodium, fat, and sugar intake. Make sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly - Routine exercise can help prevent high blood pressure and other heart problems by strengthening your heart. Remember to exercise with moderate intensity at least 30 minutes a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight - Being overweight or obese can increase your blood pressure and risk for heart conditions. Talk to your doctor about ways to achieve a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake - Smoking damages your blood vessels, and too much alcohol depletes your body of vitamins and nutrients. Both have been shown to increase your blood pressure.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI) encourages you to take steps now towards a healthier lifestyle for your heart and overall well-being. Talk to your doctor if you would like more information or have concerns about heart disease. If you are a Montgomery County resident, low income, and uninsured, you can learn more about blood pressure and cholesterol screenings by contacting Montgomery Cares Clinics through MC311 by dialing 240-777-0311.