Three of Hearts
Get in the game and don’t let these common cardiac disorders deal you a bad hand. Your heart is counting on you to play your cards right. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to beat the odds of developing serious ticker trouble. “The earlier in life we start healthy strides, the better our long-term health will be,” says Tracy Stevens, M.D., a cardiologist and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. Here’s what you need to know about three common heart disorders besides heart disease, and winning strategies to reduce your risk.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
When fatty deposits build up in the body’s arteries, they cause blockages. In the arteries leading to the heart, blockages can cause a heart attack; in the arteries of the legs, they can cause PAD—which can lead to tissue death or amputation, as well as increased risk for heart attack or stroke. The two conditions are often related. The risk factors are the same, too: high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels, diabetes, obesity and smoking. Symptoms of PAD include burning and tingling in the legs that can make walking difficult, pain and cramping at night, and wounds that don’t heal. A walking program is usually part of treatment, and perhaps medications. The most important risk-reduction measure? Don’t smoke.
Arrhythmias are heart rhythm disorders that can range from a benign nuisance to a life-threatening issue. They can cause symptoms including heart palpitations, skipped beats, or a rate that’s too fast, too slow or irregular.
Risk factors include structural abnormalities in the heart, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea. Some energy drinks and decongestants may trigger arrhythmias. Avoiding these things and reducing controllable risk factors can lessen the chance of developing a rhythm disorder. Benign arrhythmias don’t call for treatment, but more serious ones, diagnosed through a doctor’s evaluation and testing, may require medication or the implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator.
High Blood Pressure
A significant risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure is considered a “silent killer” because it typically doesn’t cause symptoms. If your blood pressure level is higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), one of the best ways to reverse it is exercise. Reducing salt intake and controlling sleep apnea are two other ways to lower high blood pressure. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medication may be needed.