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Mother and daughter spending time together

Heart Health Education | Heart Disease

Heart disease has been a leading cause of death in the United States. Learn more about prevention, symptoms and management here.


Heart disease is a leading killer among Americans today. Although some risk factors, such as family history and age, can't be changed, there are many ways to help prevent heart disease and stroke.

Have a Cardiac Disease Risk Assessment

Consult your physician about your personal risks for heart disease and stroke. Follow his or her advice on lifestyle changes and medical treatments, including medicine you may need, and if any heart tests are necessary.

Don't Smoke

Smoking more than doubles your risk for heart disease. Secondhand smoke is also very harmful. If you smoke, quit.

Control Your Blood Pressure

Help control your blood pressure by exercising regularly, eating healthy, limiting sodium (salt, and sodium in foods) and alcohol intake and not smoking. Have your blood pressure checked as recommended and take medicine if your doctor has prescribed it.

Control Your Cholesterol

Limit foods high in cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fats and trans fat can also raise your cholesterol. Have it checked as recommended and take medicines if needed.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Include more heart-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Limit your sodium (salt, and sodium in foods) intake and get no more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat.

Get Active

Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming or biking, strengthens your heart. Moderate-intensity activities, including leisure walking, housework and gardening, are also good for you. Try to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity most (preferably, all) days of the week. 

If you are overweight, make the effort to lose those extra pounds. Being overweight can contribute to heart disease and stroke.

Manage Stress

Stress increases your blood pressure and heart rate. Take time to relax. Exercise helps reduce stress, too.

Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease can come in many forms and heart disease can strike even the most unsuspecting people. It's best to be informed and know the signs and symptoms of heart disease.

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Weakness 
  • Nausea 
  • Sweating

Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Chest pain 
  • Pain in other parts of your upper body, including one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or abdomen 
  • Nausea or stomach cramping 
  • Dizziness 
  • Cold sweat 
  • Shortness of breath 

Arrhythmia Symptoms

  • Palpitations 
  • Pounding chest 
  • Dizziness 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Tiredness

Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms 

  • Heart palpations 
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness 
  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Shortness of breath

Heart Valve Disease Symptoms 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Weakness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Chest pain - feeling more like pressure 
  • Irregular heartbeats

Heart Failure Symptoms 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Quick weight gain (2lbs or more in one day) 
  • Swelling in ankles, legs, abdomen 
  • Dizziness 
  • Tiredness 
  • Irregular heartbeats

Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy) Symptoms 

  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Swelling of lower extremities 
  • Tiredness 
  • Fainting 
  • Abnormal heart rhythms 

Some people may experience no symptoms or minor symptoms, while others may develop symptoms which worsen.

Pericarditis Symptoms 

  • Sharp pain in the center of the chest; pain may extend to the neck and potentially the arms and back 
  • Pain could worsen when lying down or taking a deep breath 
  • Low-grade fever 
  • Increased heart rate

These symptoms are also associated with other forms of heart disease. 

Please see your doctor to receive a diagnosis.

Heart Disease Management

Treatment of heart disease, like coronary artery disease, is aimed at controlling symptoms and slowing or stopping the progression of the disease. The method of treatment is based on many factors determined by your symptoms, a physical exam, and diagnostic testing. In many cases, if one's artery blockage is less than 70% and not severely limiting blood flow, medications may be the first line of treatment.

Take your medications

Medications may be needed to help your heart work more efficiently and receive more oxygen-rich blood. The medications you are prescribed depend on you and your specific heart problem.

It is important to know:

  • the names of your medications
  • what they are for
  • how often and at what times to take your medications

Your doctor or nurse should review your medications with you. Keep a list of your medications and bring them to each of your physician visits. If you have questions about your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Long-term medications used to treat Coronary Artery Disease

The following medications are commonly prescribed for long-term care in patients with coronary artery disease.  Your doctor will determine if they are the right medications for you.

  • Aspirin - is often used to prevent blood clots forming in the heart arteries in patients with coronary artery disease.  Aspirin has been shown to improve survival after a heart attack. 
  • Beta blockers - are a class of medications that relax the blood vessels and slow the heart rate. It thereby improves blood flow to the heart, decreases blood pressure and symptoms of angina, and has been shown to improve survival after a heart attack. 
  • Ranolazine (Ranexa) is a medication used to treat chronic angina. It works by improving blood flow to the heart and decreases the occurrence of angina attacks. It is used in combination with other medications. 
  • Ace inhibitors - are given to patients if they have heart failure, or their heart muscle is not pumping as well as it should. Ace inhibitors have been shown to improve survival after a heart attack.
  • Lipid management - is essential for all patients with coronary artery disease who have higher than normal blood lipid levels. 

Beyond Medical Management

When medications and lifestyle changes are not able to control symptoms or narrowing of the coronary artery progresses to a point that the heart muscle is at risk for damage, interventional procedures such as angioplasty and stents or surgery may be required to treat your heart disease. In either case, lifestyle modification and medications will be a part of your lifelong program of disease management.