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Take heart—and make it healthy

Your heart is always on the job. Here are some signs of trouble and some ways to ensure your heart will function well for years to come.

Work schedule: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How would you like to have that in your job description? For the human heart, 24/7 is the standard. Subpar performance may not seem like an option when talking about the heart’s work habits, but for roughly 6 million Americans living with heart failure, it’s a round-the-clock reality.

Heart failure is a form of heart disease that simply means your heart isn’t working as well as it should. A healthy heart pumps about 100,000 times a day, delivering blood to and from the far reaches of your body. An unhealthy heart still pumps, but it may not pump enough blood or with enough force to send a sufficient supply to all of your body’s tissues and organs.

Signs of trouble

People with heart failure often complain of:
  • Feeling tired or short of breath.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight gain or swollen legs and ankles.
  • Frequent dry cough.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. He or she may take a look at your heart with x-ray, echocardiogram or other imaging tests.

Ticker TLC

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor will develop a treatment plan for you. It is very important that you follow the plan and communicate with your doctor on a regular basis, especially early in the process.

Your treatment plan may include medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blockers, which reduce blood pressure and ease the strain on your heart. Your doctor can also set up a diet and exercise plan for you that will help strengthen your heart and improve your overall health.

When a faulty heart valve or blocked artery is causing your heart to underperform, surgical and nonsurgical options—such as heart valve replacement, coronary bypass or angioplasty—may be recommended. Talk with your doctor to learn more about these procedures.

Take control

There are certain risk factors for heart disease that can’t be avoided, such as being over age 65, male or African American or having a family history of heart disease.

But, according to the American Heart Association, there are three basic lifestyle choices that will help you defend against heart disease.
  • Avoid tobacco. If you smoke, it’s time to quit. If there’s a smoker in your home, it’s time to help him or her quit. Smoking doubles your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Exercise regularly. Any exercise is better than none, and just 30 minutes a day on most days of the week will help lower your risk. Studies show that people with moderate fitness levels are much less likely to die early from heart problems than those with poor fitness levels.
  • Eat healthfully. The foods we eat can contribute to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and weight gain—all major risk factors for heart disease. Build your diet around vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and cut back on salt.

February is Heart Healthy Month. If you already have heart disease or haven’t exercised in a while, speak to your doctor about creating a diet and exercise plan that’s best for you.

Source: American Heart Association
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