Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, and the troubling truth about heart disease doesn’t stop there. Every 34 seconds, someone has a heart disease-related event, about 787,650 Americans die from heart disease each year, on average, over 2,150 Americans die from heart disease each day, with one death every 40 seconds and approximately 68% of people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke.

People who survive a stroke or heart attack are often left with disabilities and long-term health problems, which can affect their quality of life and their ability to care for themselves.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to the part of your brain is cut off, causing your brain cells to become damaged or die. A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency.

If you suspect that someone has a stroke, act fast to recognize the signs:

Facial weakness – can they smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
Arm weakness – can they raise both arms?
Speech problems – can they speak clearly and can they understand what you’re saying?

If you see any of these symptoms, call for an ambulance immediately.

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of developing a condition. You are at much greater risk if you have several contributing factors such as smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Consider other important factors that can increase your risk such as

• your age
• your gender
• your kidney function
• an irregular heartbeat
• the family history of the heart attack or stroke
• if you are overweight.

Some people who have particular medical conditions are already at high risk. Your doctor will tell you if you are in this group and advise you about what to do to reduce your risk.

Your doctor will recommend taking action to reduce your risk. Sometimes, you may need to take medication, while in others, it may ask you to change your health or lifestyle habits.

While there is no single thing that causes cardiovascular disease, there are changes you can make to improve your cardiovascular health. These changes include:

• eating a variety of foods from the five food groups
• limiting sugary, fatty and salty take-away meals and snacks
• vegetables, whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds every day
• choosing healthier fats and oils such as olive or canola oil, nuts, seeds, fish and avocado
• using herbs and spices for flavor instead of salt
• drinking mainly water
• avoiding adding salt to food
• choose ‘no added salt’, ‘low-salt’ or ‘salt-reduced’ foods where possible
• drinking water
• stopping smoking
• being physically active most days of the week
• maintaining a healthy weight
• limiting your alcohol consumption.

Studies have shown that people with depression, people who are socially isolated, and people who do not have quality social support are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

You may wish to take part in a formal health and exercise program. Ask your doctor about a suitable program or contact your local community health center or council for more information.