The leading cause of death for men and women remains heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “One person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020—that’s 1 in every 5 deaths.” In addition, the CDC states, “Heart disease cost the United States about $229 billion each year from 2017 to 2018. This includes the cost of healthcare services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.”
Heart disease includes a wide range of conditions such as: Blood vessel disease, coronary artery disease, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), heart problems you’re born with (congenital heart defects), disease of the heart muscle and heart valve disease. Heart disease isn’t inevitable and many of the conditions are preventable. “Heart disease is 90 percent treatable – everyone can prevent heart disease anywhere in the world, especially by eating foods that are low in salt and cholesterol, exercising regularly, and not smoking,” said Leslie Cho, M.D., Section Head for Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic. “Even if a person has a family history of heart disease, we can still prevent and treat heart disease thanks to incredible advances in medicine.”
Although there are ways to avoid heart disease, an alarming amount of people are still dying every year. “Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 382,820 people in 2020,” the CDC says. There’s several factors to heart disease everyone should be aware of and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with cardiologists who share what to know about the disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
According to Joyce Oen-Hsiao, MD, a Yale Medicine Cardiologist, “Often people do not know that they have risk factors for heart disease until their first event. Because of this, they are not identified early enough to prevent an event from happening Also, even if people do have risk factors or a family history of heart disease, often people are so busy with life: work, family, etc, that they don’t make the time to do the things that can keep them healthy. “
Evan Jacobs, M.D., board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, vascular ultrasound, and nuclear cardiology with Conviva Care Centers says, “The majority of heart disease occurs as a result of lifestyle. An unhealthy diet and poor exercise habits lead to weight gain, elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes – all potent contributors to the development of heart disease. People should know that heart disease is by and large the most preventable form of illness people develop. A healthy lifestyle, including a Mediterranean style diet and regular aerobic exercise, can prevent heart disease in most people.”
Dr. Jacobs explains, “Risk factors are similar for women, however the majority of heart disease in women does occur after menopause. For that reason, we believe there is a hormonal role in the development of heart disease. Unfortunately, hormone replacement therapy has not shown to have the protective effects we had hoped. The best way for women to prevent heart disease remains the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle.”
Yu-Ming Ni, MD, cardiologist, at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA adds, “In general, women and men have similar symptoms for most heart conditions. For example, the most common presentation of a heart attack is chest pain or pressure for both men and women. However, women who develop heart conditions tend to be older and have more associated medical problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This may help to explain some of the differences in symptoms between men and women, but truthfully we still do not fully understand the reason for these differences in symptoms.
Men continue to have higher rates of heart disease than women. But the number one cause of death in both men and women is heart disease. In fact, women tend to have more severe heart disease when they first are diagnosed, tend to have more severe symptoms, and often do not get as high quality of medical care for their heart disease as men do. Increasing awareness of heart disease risk across genders is essential to fight the epidemic of heart disease in this country.”
Richard Wright, MD, cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA tells us, “When most people think of cardiovascular disease, they think of a “heart attack”. Unlike some other cardiovascular symptoms, those from a heart attack arise directly from the heart. When the heart is deprived of blood flow it begins to ache, as any such jeopardized tissue would do. The problem is that the heart is an internal organ and it is difficult for the body to localize from where such discomfort is arising. As such, individuals with ongoing heart “pain” will usually feel heaviness in the front upper chest, which may or may not extend into the throat, neck, lower jaw, shoulders, upper arms, or high back. Most people do not even describe this as pain, but rather as a discomfort which persists for many minutes and is often accompanied by unexplained sweating, queasiness, and generalized malaise.”
However, there are other symptoms of heart disease. The second large category is when the heart no longer does its job of maintaining adequate blood pressure and blood flow to the body. At such times, individuals will feel faint or might actually pass out. If the heart cannot increase blood flow during exercise then symptoms of exercise intolerance develop. People often describe that at such times they simply cannot do what they are used to doing, as they are fatigued, have less stamina, “run out of gas”, and get short of breath with activity.
The third large category of heart symptoms involve the rhythm of the heart. If the heart exceeds its normal heart rate or beats in an irregular fashion then individuals may describe an awareness of palpitations, heart racing, or lightheadedness.”
Dr. Ni explains, “The five most common symptoms of CVD are chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness or lightheadedness, and exertional fatigue. Chest pain or pressure is typically mid-chest, and may travel to other areas of the body, such as the jaw, the arm, or the back.
Palpitations may include sensations of extra heartbeats, skipped heartbeats, or fast racing heartbeats. Exertional fatigue is typically an inability to physically exert yourself to a level that you used to be able to do easily. For example, you can’t go up the stairs in your apartment as easily as before, or it is getting harder to take your usual walk around your neighborhood. ”
Dr. Jacobs says, “A Mediterranean style of diet composed of lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and whole grains clearly lowers risk of heart disease. Avoiding high cholesterol foods and foods high in saturated fat is also important. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and regular aerobic exercise is also important. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day is recommended.”
Dr. Wright explains, “Some of our likelihood of CV disease is buried in our genes. Since we can’t choose our genetic lineage, the most primordial way to reduce eventual CV disease is to alter nature’s course by avoiding those lifestyle issues that compound the problem: obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking cigarettes. If one is unlucky in the genetic lottery and has inherited a tendency toward abnormal lipids in the blood, then medications are dramatically effective at reprogramming the liver (which is the master organ for cholesterol in the blood) and hence eventually avoiding heart attack and stroke.”
Dr. Ni shares, “The best ways to prevent heart disease involve following Life’s Essential Eight principles, as recommended by the American Heart Association: These eight principles have been shown in research studies to be most effective at reducing heart disease. They are: eat better, be more active, quit tobacco, get healthy sleep, manage weight, control cholesterol, manage blood sugar, and manage blood pressure. Ask your doctor about how you can improve your health following these eight principles.”