Doctor examines a patient with a stethoscope.

Managing Chronic Conditions and the Risk of Heart Disease

By 2030, cases of heart disease in Michigan are projected to rise from 600,000 to 2.9 million. Heart disease accounts for one death every 60 seconds, taking its place as the number one killer of men and women in the United States. While there are many factors, the likelihood of developing heart disease is greater for those with chronic conditions. Thankfully, preventing heart disease and managing potential risk factors is possible.

  • Diabetes: The risk of death from heart disease is two to four times higher for adults with diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can damage nerves, blood vessels and organs. It’s imperative to monitor blood sugar, take medications/insulin as prescribed by a doctor and integrate a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise.
  • Obesity: Excessive weight gain shares a relationship with a variety of catalysts to heart disease, including: diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. The American Heart Association suggests obese patients focus on diet, aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and in some cases, medically-supervised weight loss programs.
  • High Cholesterol: Excess cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, narrowing of the blood vessels and inefficient blood circulation. Addressing this risk involves maintaining a diet of heart-healthy fats, regular exercise and if prescribed by a doctor, cholesterol-lowering medication to reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
  • High Blood Pressure / Hypertension: High blood pressures influence the functionality of the coronary arteries, narrows the blood vessels and puts a strain on the heart over time. Lowering blood pressure to a safe level involves maintaining a healthy weight, establishing a diet low in sodium and daily physical activity.
  • Depression/Anxiety: Chronic stress and/or sadness can negatively impact the motivation needed to make healthy choices, as well as affect the hormones that regulate bodily functions. Meditation, exercise, proper diet and therapy are all effective ways to address depression/anxiety. In more persistent cases, doctor-prescribed medication may be necessary.

What Can Be Done?

While certain risk factors associated with heart disease are out of our control, others are preventable.

  • Get to Know Your Doctor: Establishing a close relationship with your doctor is imperative to monitoring the risk of heart disease. Once you’re acquainted with someone who understands your health needs and history, schedule an annual visit to review your health assessment and personal health goals. Screening for heart-related risks is a key part of this process.
  • Don’t Ignore Symptoms: Whether you’re managing a chronic condition or not, poor heart health can show through a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, congestion or coughing, leg or ankle swelling, chest pain or pressure, stomach pains or cramping, which is common in women, jaw pain or pain and numbness in the arm.
  • Take Control Where You Can: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise and stress management can lower your risk of heart disease. In addition to this, cigarette smokers should take the necessary steps to quit, as they are more than twice as likely to have a fatal heart attack than non-smokers.

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About the author: Dr. S. George Kipa, MD, is a deputy chief medical officer and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider.

Photo credit: andrei_r

 

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