Knowing the Warning Signs of Heart Disease and Making Lifestyle Changes May Save Your Life


By Jims Jean-Jacques, DO, President of Medical Staff at St. Joseph Healthcare and Cardiologist at St. Joseph Cardiology

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States 1? Furthermore, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack each year 2 .

Many of us put off taking care of our heart health. February is Heart Health Month, which is an annual reminder for us to take the time to educate ourselves on the warning signs of heart disease and proactively make lifestyle changes to improve your overall health.

Common Warning Signs of Heart Disease

Are you:
  • Overweight – Obesity is one of the leading causes of heart disease.
  • Over 50 – As you age, your risk for heart disease increases.
Do you:
  • Smoke – Smokers have nearly twice the risk for heart attacks as non-smokers.
  • Have high blood pressure – Untreated high blood pressure is a major factor in heart disease and should be treated with help from your doctor.
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle – If your job has you sitting most of the day, you’re at an elevated risk.
  • Have high stress – Stressful lifestyles and lack of sleep can contribute to heart disease.
  • Drink alcohol – Regular consumption of alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Have a family history
If you have any of these warning signs,
now is the time to schedule a heart checkup with your doctor.


Lifestyle Changes Can Help Prevent Heart Disease

The good news is heart disease is largely preventable. Even small changes to your everyday lifestyle can help reduce your risks. The American Heart Association recommends following its Life’s Essential 8 – Your checklist for lifelong good health to improve and maintain your cardiovascular health:

  • Eat better – Aim for an overall healthy eating pattern that includes whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds and cooking in oils such as olive and canola.
    Be more active – Adults should get 2½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. Kids should have 60 minutes every day, including play and structured activities.
  • Quit tobacco – Use of inhaled nicotine delivery products, which includes traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping, is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., including about a third of all deaths from heart disease.
  • Get healthy sleep – Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Children require more: 10-16 hours for ages 5 and younger, including naps; 9-12 hours for ages 6-12; and 8-10 hours for ages 13-18.
  • Manage weight – Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight has many benefits. Body mass index, a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height, is a useful gauge. Optimal BMI is 25.
  • Control cholesterol – High levels of non-HDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Your doctor may consider non-HDL cholesterol as the preferred number to monitor.
    Manage blood sugar – Most of the food you eat is turned into glucose, or blood sugar, your body uses as energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
  • Manage blood pressure – Keeping your blood pressure within acceptable ranges can keep you healthier longer. Levels less than 120/80 mm Hg are optimal.
    Keep Yourself Healthy

The strength of our entire community depends on the good health of every individual. Please join us in celebrating Heart Health Month throughout February by taking steps to better care for yourself.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.
Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2022 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association.


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