Heart Disease

With heart disease, the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen become clogged with plaque or cholesterol deposits. This raises your chances of having a heart attack or other heart problems.

Normally, you have many blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. With heart disease, your arteries may be blocked a little or all the way. Fatty materials and cholesterol are stuck inside the arteries and block blood flow. When these arteries are blocked, less oxygen gets to the heart. This may cause chest pain. If the blockage is bad enough, it can cause a heart attack.

Lowering Your Risk of Heart Disease

General Information

Many things can raise your chances of having heart disease. Some of them you can control and others you cannot. It is important to know about all of them.

Some health conditions may raise your chances for having heart disease. Take extra care and work with your doctor to keep these health problems under control. Your risk for heart disease is higher if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Low mood
  • Family history of heart disease

You may have control over some things that make you more likely to have heart disease. It is important to know about them and work to keep these problems under control. You are at a higher risk of heart disease if you:

  • Smoke
  • Use alcohol or illegal drugs
  • Do not exercise regularly
  • Are overweight
  • Have a lot of stress in your life
  • Have a poor diet

You may not be able to control these things, but they are important to know about. You are at a higher risk for heart disease if you:

  • Are older. Your risk gets higher the older you are.
  • Are male. Men are more likely to have heart disease than women.
  • Are a postmenopausal woman
  • Have a family history of heart disease
  • Are African American, Mexican American, American Indian, Hawaiian, or Asian American

What lifestyle changes are needed?

  • Stop smoking. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink to no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men.
  • Do not use illegal drugs. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
  • Work to manage stress through techniques like guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, etc.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

What drugs may be needed?

Your doctor may order drugs to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Control blood sugar
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Help with your mood

Take your drugs exactly as ordered. Controlling problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol are all ways to lower your chances of having heart disease.

Will physical activity be limited?

It is good to get some kind of exercise each day. Walking, gardening, swimming, riding a bike, or dancing are all good ways to add exercise to your life. Always check with your doctor if you have questions about starting an exercise program.

What changes to diet are needed?

Eat a healthy diet. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian if you need to lose weight.

  • Eat whole grain foods and foods high in fiber.
  • Choose many different fruits and vegetables. Fresh or frozen is best.
  • Cut back on solid fats like butter or margarine. Eat less fatty or processed foods.
  • Eat more low fat or lean meats like chicken, fish, or turkey. Eat less red meat.
  • When do I need to call the doctor?

    Activate the emergency medical system right away if you have signs of a heart attack. Call 911 in the United States or Canada. The sooner treatment begins, the better your chances for recovery. Call for emergency help right away if you have signs of heart attack like:

    • Chest pain
    • Pain in other areas of the upper body (either or both arms, jaw, neck, etc.)
    • Trouble breathing
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Feeling dizzy