Are You Positive You Have A Healthy Heart?

Understanding Your Heart Health

What helps you get through each day? You may say it is your morning cup of coffee, a yoga class or your favorite TV show. All the activities that help get you through your day play a vital role in your heart health. By not taking care of your heart, you could be putting yourself at risk for developing heart disease. This could lead to you becoming one of the 610,000 people who die each year from heart disease in the United States. Whoa, that’s scary.

Many things factor into heart health, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Diet
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Physical activity
  • Hygiene

understanding heart health and heart disease

Though some of these factors are not within your control, like age and sex, many of these factors are. For example, washing your hands can help prevent a viral infection that could put you at a greater risk for a heart infection. Stress can cause damage to arteries or worsen other contributors to heart disease. Diets high in fats, salts, sugar or cholesterol can lead to the development of heart disease. You have the power to prevent all of these.

Two major things to watch out for are high blood pressure and cholesterol. Why? It’s time for the heart truth.

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure plays a significant role in heart health. If a person has high blood pressure, their blood pumps through their coronary arteries at a much higher rate than normal pressures. Unfortunately, high blood pressure can be a “silent killer” and can lead to many adverse health effects. Why? It often shows no symptoms and can damage the heart, arteries and other organs.

Damage to the heart as a result of high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, congestive heart failure or atherosclerosis (buildup of fat in the arteries that can lead them to harden). High blood pressure can also cause kidney damage, vision loss, peripheral artery disease, angina or stroke.

How does high blood pressure lead to a stroke? Strokes occur when blood vessels to the brain are blocked by a clot or burst. Because high blood pressure damages arteries throughout the entire body, arteries can clog or rupture more easily. Ischemic stroke happens when narrowed or clogged blood vessels that lead to the brain receive less blood flow. Eighty-seven percent of strokes are this form: ischemic.

It’s critical to keep blood pressure ranges within normal to protect the brain from a debilitating stroke. Interested in what is considered a normal blood pressure level? Discover what the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has to say.


Cholesterol is naturally present in the body and the foods we eat. When we have too much cholesterol in our bodies, plaque forms in the artery walls, making it difficult for blood to circulate. Because plaque is a hard, thick deposit, arteries aren’t as flexible and can lead to arteries becoming clogged. If plaque caused by cholesterol breaks, there could be a blood clot that obstructs an artery, causing less blood to the brain (resulting in a stroke) or a clogged artery to the heart, potentially leading to a heart attack.

We can take control of our cholesterol levels if we understand them. Cholesterol is measured based on total blood cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides found in the body. The factors that affect cholesterol are:

  • Diet
  • Weight
  • Physical activity

When blood cholesterol is high, a person can be at risk for developing detrimental health conditions like stroke and heart disease.

Heart Disease

Although cholesterol and high blood pressure aren’t the only culprits in heart disease, they play an important role. Heart disease can lead to many conditions, including:

  • Congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped working. It means that the heart is not pumping blood as it should be. Although the heart continues to work, the body doesn’t receive the blood and oxygen it needs. If left untreated, health can decline. 
  • Arrhythmia. This means that the heart has an abnormal rhythm. The heart could be too slow, too fast or at an irregular pace. Arrhythmias can be caused by heart defects, high blood pressure, stress, substance abuse or valvular heart disease.
  • Heart valve issues. Heart valves play a critical role in circulation, so when the valves are not working properly, it can lead to a variety of health issues and could require surgery to correct the heart valve(s) affected. 

Heart Attack Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the United States has a heart attack every 43 seconds. This means about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year.

Heart attacks occur when the flow of blood to a particular part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If the blood clot completely blocks the blood supply to that region of the heart, it could begin to die. The most common culprit in heart attacks is coronary artery disease. Symptoms of heart attack include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
  • Feeling weak or lightheaded
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder 

Women having heart attacks may also experience nausea, vomiting or unusual tiredness. If you or someone you know is having any of these symptoms, contact 911 immediately. The chances of surviving a heart attack are higher the sooner emergency treatment begins.

Listen To Your Heart

“Listening” to your heart can tell you a lot about your overall health, making it all the more important to take care of your heart. What steps can you take to better care of your heart?

  • Increase activity levels. Whether it’s going on a 30-minute walk or shooting hoops, exercising is a great way to improve not just your heart health, but your overall well-being.
  • Eat healthy. When you add more fruits and vegetables to your diet and eliminate some unhealthy foods, your heart will thank you. 
  • Don’t drink your calories. By cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet, you can cut more than 100 calories from your diet each day. In a year’s time, that could add up to 10 pounds.
  • Take a deep breath. By taking time to breath slowly and deeply each day, you could reduce stress and relax. This could lead to lower blood pressure and a healthier heart!
  • Wash your hands. It may seem like a no-brainer, but washing your hands with soap and water often will protect your heart from infections.

Trust Your Heart to UnityPoint Health

The primary care providers at UnityPoint Health are more than just someone you call when you’re sick. In fact, they are often your first line of defense against illness. A UnityPoint Health primary care provider will diagnose and treat common medical conditions, and if you require more specialized care, they will work with your entire care team to ensure you have a positive coordinated care experience.

Contact a primary care provider at a UnityPoint Health location near you today to make sure your heart health is what it should be. At UnityPoint Health, you’ll know your heart is in good hands.

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