Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States? Yet few people take the time to understand their own personal risk factors and take the steps necessary to reduce them. In honor of Valentine's Day, let's talk heart!
Here's an overview of this amazing organ and its critical functions, plus some steps you can take to keep your ticker going strong.
How does the heart work?
Once thought to be the most "intelligent" part of the body and the seat of all emotions, the heart has long been revered as a life-sustaining organ with unique spiritual properties. The heart is a muscle that carries oxygenated blood from the lungs to the rest of the body, providing necessary fuel and nutrition to all the other organs. A healthy heart has its own built-in "pacemaker," which sends electrical signals that create and maintain the rhythm of the heart. Every single minute, your heart pumps about 1.5 gallons of blood; on average, the heart beats about 100,000 times per day.
What is heart disease?
There are many diseases of the heart, but one of the most common, and most deadly, is Coronary Heart Disease or CHD. Coronary Heart Disease occurs when plaque hardens and builds up in the coronary arteries, which are responsible for fueling the heart muscle itself. This buildup results in reduced blood flow and causes the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. When the arteries become completely obstructed, a heart attack occurs. Severe CHD can also cause irregular heart rhythms, heart failure, and cardiac arrest.
Who is at risk?
Even you are relatively young, healthy, and active, you still may be at risk for developing heart disease. If you have heart disease in your family, it is especially important to stay current with your doctor and regularly monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The bottom line is: don't assume you are not at risk, visit your doctor and find out for sure.
What can I do?
Some heart conditions require medication. But even in those cases, your risk of complications can be minimized by making simple changes in lifestyle, such as eating a heart-healthy diet, eliminating or reducing the use of tobacco and alcohol, and using stress-reduction techniques. The best thing you can do is increase your physical activity, even if it means just adding a short walk every day. According to the Cleveland Clinic, "Regular exercise is the single most important key to heart health. And it is free."
Are you an adult with congenital heart disease?
It is estimated that there are more adults than children living with congenital heart disease in the United States today. If you are a member of this growing population, it's important to get specialized care: you may need further treatment or be at higher risk for other heart conditions as an adult. Schedule regular visits with a cardiologist that specializes in ACHD and take the necessary steps to treat and monitor your unique heart. For more information go to: http://www.achaheart.org/
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