Most people don’t really think about it. In fact, we really do just take it for granted that our heart is there and that it’s doing its job. We all know how important it is to be alive, but most of the time it works away in anonymity. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, your heart pumps blood and oxygen to your muscles and organs.
You would think that such a vital piece of our internal machinery would be protected at all costs. It should be one of the most important things we think about each day right? Unfortunately, unhealthy habits creep into our lifestyle, and over time we damage that muscle until it starts to have issues.
Your heart is very susceptible to several different factors. Heart disease is a big factor, but even the most perfect heart will eventually get old and tired. It takes a lot of effort to pump blood through our bodies, over and over, multiple times a minute, year after year. So why do we make its job so much harder?
You can take control of your heart health! And your pharmacist is a key piece of your heart health team. Working with them, alongside your doctor and maintaining good habits, can help you give your heart a fighting chance, and maybe even improve its health to keep it running longer.
Let’s look at some of the causes of heart disease and what we can do to ward off issues while living a heart-healthy lifestyle.
What can go wrong?
Heart disease is an umbrella term for several different types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD) which is usually what people are thinking of when they say they have heart disease.
There are four main types of heart disease:
Ignoring heart disease can lead to arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), cardiogenic shock (severe damage to the heart muscle), or even heart failure (when the heart can no longer pump blood).
We’re going to go over some lifestyle factors and health tips that can help you prevent heart disease. Your pharmacist is an amazing resource for heart-healthy living tips and even over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and other supplements to help slow down or prevent heart disease.
However, if you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor right away.
What Causes Heart Disease?
Thanks to some amazing marketing of products through the late 1980s and the 1990s, cholesterol gets a really bad rap. It’s important to know that there are two different kinds of cholesterol and that you need some cholesterol in your diet to function.
Good cholesterol, also known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), is important because it reduces bad cholesterol and is critical in making vitamin D and other hormones in our body like estrogen and testosterone.
The reason cholesterol has such a bad reputation is because bad cholesterol, also known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a real troublemaker. Found in a lot of processed foods, deep-fried foods, and red meat, LDL cholesterol plays a big factor in the creation of plaque on your artery walls.
Over time, as the plaque builds up, there becomes less and less room for the blood to flow through. The smaller the opening, the harder your heart has to strain to push the blood through. Eventually, the artery gets blocked, and you are dealing with a major heart problem.
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about getting your cholesterol levels checked.
Regular testing is important because there are usually no symptoms for high cholesterol until something serious like heart disease or a blockage occurs. You can get tested at your doctor, in your local pharmacy, or even get an at-home test. You want to check your cholesterol at least every 4 to 6 years, and more often if you have or are at risk for heart disease.
The good thing is that with some diet changes, proper exercise, and sometimes some medication, you can reverse high cholesterol and take the strain off your heart.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is often known as the silent killer because it has no symptoms until you have heart disease or possibly even a stroke. There are several causes of high blood pressure such as being overweight, diet, stress, or plaque buildup.
For example, when your arteries start to build up a lining of plaque, the space available to pump blood gets smaller and smaller. Imagine blowing air through a large straw and then blowing air through a very, very, small straw. You must blow a lot harder to push the same amount of air through, and the same principle applies to your heart when it pumps blood.
You can easily get your blood pressure tested, so it makes sense to check it as often as you can. Not only can your doctor check your blood pressure, but you can also have your pharmacist check it, use an automated machine in a pharmacy or mall, or even order an at-home testing machine.
It’s important that you test your blood pressure multiple times and then average out the results. If you’re having a particularly stressful day or had a very salty meal, your blood pressure reading can be artificially inflated. So get it checked, but get it checked a couple of times to be sure.
Your pharmacist can help with healthy eating advice, stress management advice, and testing equipment. Technology advances have brought the price of blood pressure monitors down drastically and a home unit can be purchased for a very affordable amount.
What Can I do to Lower my Risk of Heart Disease?
Luckily, the steps for reducing your risk of heart disease are straightforward. Here is a quick list of what you can do:
Let’s break down some of these tasks into a little more detail and talk about how a pharmacist might be able to help. Remember that lowering your blood pressure and/or bad cholesterol levels can help keep heart disease in check. Several of the steps used to lower cholesterol or your blood pressure, also offer additional benefits like reducing the strain on your heart muscle, improving cardio, and strengthening your heart muscle at the same time.
Step 1: Eat Healthy
To eat heart-healthy, your meals should be mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, and nuts. You should limit red meat, sugary food, and sugary drinks.
As a bonus, eating healthy can help reduce your weight, which reduces strain on your heart, reduces blood pressure, and lowers your cholesterol.
Step 2: Move More
In an ideal world, you should be getting 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic heart-pumping activity, at least 3 to 5 times a week. And that doesn’t have to be done at once, you can break it into two 15-minute walks per day. To help with heart health, exercise should get your heart pumping like brisk walking, bicycling, or swimming.
To maintain weight, or lose weight, even a small amount of daily walking at a slow to moderate pace can still help. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting exercise if you suffer from high blood pressure. It’s very important to start slowly and work your way up to taking on a high-intensity aerobic exercise.
Step 3: Quit Smoking, Lose Weight, Manage Stress, etc.
Let’s group any bad habits that affect your heart health into this one section.
Recreational drugs, nicotine, etc. can damage your arteries and increase your odds of developing heart disease. Even if you don’t smoke, your risk increases just from being around second-hand smoke. You should also limit your alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women, and for men, it’s no more than 2 drinks per day.
Watch your weight. The more physical mass your body has, the more your heart must work to get blood to your whole body. Even dropping something as small as 5% of your body weight can improve your blood pressure. Your pharmacist may have a weight-management program available, and most pharmacies will carry supplements, vitamins, and other weight-loss aids.
Manage your stress. Stress increases your blood pressure and increases your heart rate. The more your body stays stuck in its ‘fight-or-flight’ state, the more stress is placed on your heart. Exercise, meditation, relaxation, and even some OTC supplements can manage and lower stress. Speak with your pharmacist to see what options are available to you.
Step 4: Don’t Skip any Medications
If your doctor or health care provider has prescribed any medication, it is critical that you take those medications as prescribed. Speak with your pharmacist if you are having trouble tolerating a medication, or finding it difficult to maintain your dosage. A compounding pharmacy can help by offering alternatives that may be easier to handle.
Not only is it important to take the medications that directly affect your heart health, like blood pressure medication, but it’s also important to take care of other diseases like diabetes. Ignoring an unrelated disease or issue can still have unintended consequences on your heart health.
Your heart health is important. Heart disease is a silent killer, and it creeps up without any symptoms until it’s too late. The only way to catch it in time is to have regular check-ups and testing of your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Speak with your pharmacist or healthcare provider and get a plan in place that helps address the underlying conditions. If you control those areas, you can slow and possibly even completely prevent heart disease.