February is American Heart Month, and unfortunately many of us know someone who has had heart disease. Although the risk of heart disease increases with age, it doesn't have to be an inevitable part of aging. While there are some behaviors we can control, such as diet and exercise, there are some risk factors like age and family history that we cannot change. There are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones as part of our daily routines and habits.
Heart health is critical for all ages, but since heart disease is a leading cause of death for people over 50, older adults should pay particular attention to ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness. You also may be surprised to know that heart disease is the biggest threat to a woman's health - even more so than breast cancer. While Heart Month focuses attention on the disease, leading a heart-healthy life is important year round.
Many other health conditions can contribute to and increase one's risk of having heart disease. Risks are habits and conditions that make heart disease more likely. The more risks you have, the higher your chances of a heart attack, stroke or other problems. Most risk factors can be managed to help make your heart healthier. Risk factors that you can manage or change include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, being physically inactive, high levels of stress.
Most people, especially women, often don't realize that certain symptoms could be related to heart disease. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor and ask to be tested for heart disease.
When you present your symptoms to your doctor, a good way to get the conversation started in to use the "Ask Me 3" questions:
1. What is my main problem?
2. What do I need to do?
3. Why is it important for me to do this?
If your symptoms are heart-related, your doctor will start treatment.
Finally, focus on what you can control. Make small realistic changes in eating and activity habits.Maintain a healthy weight and a tobacco-free lifestyle. Manage your level of stress.
And if you are being treated for heart disease, follow your doctor's plan of care. Understanding all of the factors that contribute to heart disease, can help you to avoid the disease, better manage your condition and live a longer, healthier life.
Dr. Judith Black is the medical director for Senior Markets at Highmark Inc.