Stopping Heart Disease in Its Path: Awareness is the First Step
Part One of a Two-Part Series
Heart disease is a big problem. It’s the number-one cause of death in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control states that 659,000 (one in four) Americans die each year from heart disease. For Hispanics, the death rate is one in five.
Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) reported 13,000 (one out of three) Arizonans die each year from heart disease and stroke, both of which are called cardiovascular diseases. Of these, more than 250 of every 100,000 Hispanics die of cardiovascular disease yearly.
Heart disease has become so pervasive because it has many pathways for development: family history, bad dietary and life habits, age and stress. And the risks are common: obesity, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and a poor diet. Most are the same risks for getting type-two diabetes; and if you are diabetic, your risk for heart disease at least doubles.
True, the stats are alarming. But understanding your risks is important because the first step toward prevention is awareness. And once you’re aware, you can make a plan for prevention.
“There are things we can’t change about our lives,” said Equality Health’s Arizona Market Medical Director, Dr. Seth Dubry, “such as family history, our gender or age. But there are things we can change to decrease our risks. Really take the time to focus on prevention measures you can take today so you’ll be around for the grandkids, be around for that special occasion you’re planning for, be around for those holidays that you cherish.”
A Bundle of Conditions
Heart disease encompasses a bundle of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure and heart defects at birth. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes CHD as a buildup of plaque (which includes fat, cholesterol and calcium) on the walls of the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscles. As the arteries become hardened and narrowed, your blood pressure increases in order to compensate for the decrease in blood flow. Blood clots start to form, and the flow becomes too low for the heart to operate property.
The result can lead to angina (chest pain), congestive heart failure or heart attack. But the heart is not the only thing a plaque buildup affects. This buildup can occur in any artery and cause cardiovascular disease (CVD).
“There are arteries throughout the body,” Dr. Dubry explained, “so you can build up this same plaque in the arteries that lead to your brain, which can cause a stroke, and the arteries going to the kidneys, which can lead to kidney disease.”
Plaque can also build in the arteries going to your lower legs. This is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
“I go for a walk,” Dr. Dubry explained how PAD feels, “and after a couple of blocks I start getting pain in my calves and upper legs because the arteries can’t provide the additional blood flow to feed the muscles. When I stop walking for five or 10 minutes, the pain goes away.”
All Ages Susceptible
The number one risk factor for developing heart disease in Arizona is age. But don’t think if you’re under 65 you can get away with ignoring this disease. The American Heart Association reported that, during 2015-2018, of the U.S. Hispanics 20 years and older 52.3% males and 42.7% females had CVD. AZDHS states more than half of Arizona’s Hispanics who die prematurely do so from cardiovascular disease.
Although symptoms of CVD most often show up in middle age, NIH research states the condition can begin in childhood. You may not have symptoms until you have a heart attack (pain in your chest or upper body, shortness of breath, nausea, breaking out into a cold sweat — if you experience any of those symptoms, call 911 immediately). That’s why CVD is called a silent killer.
The Next Step
“It’s important early on to set the stage for a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Dubry said. “That doesn’t mean you have to live on bamboo and kale and exercise five hours a day, but it does mean setting an example for your kids and teaching them that there are some healthy choices they can make now so that throughout their life they’re healthy.”
You can find out more about heart disease by watching Cafecito Time con Equality Health’s heart health segment on the new Equality Health YouTube channel. Host Maria Rebozo-La Pine and her special guest Cindy Quintero, American Heart Association Community Impact Director, discuss symptoms, preventive care, managing conditions and community resources you can tap into to help you prevent or manage heart disease.
Look, also, for Part Two of our heart health series in the February 24 issue of Prensa Arizona, which will feature detailed information on the different ways you can prevent and manage heart disease.
For more healthy resources and information, visit www.equalityhealth.com/members.
Published in Prensa Arizona, 2/10/2022