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Your Self chec Keeping Healthy Guide


Understanding Heart Diseases

Heart Disease & Stroke Risk Factors

6 Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Heart Attack & Stroke Warning Signs

Signs of Angina (list)

Signs of Heart Attack (list)

Signs of Stroke (list)


Your heart is a muscle, but it’s also a pump that supplies blood—nourishment—to every organ in your body. That’s why heart disease is such a threat to well-being. Some heart problems are genetic, but many others are the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits that lead either directly to heart disease or to another condition, like obesity or diabetes, that can increase the risk for it. Here’s how you can help keep your heart healthy.

A special note: No matter what your age, if you have a family history of heart disease or are a smoker, keep yourself in check by calling your doctor for your yearly exam. Let us remind you. Sign up for a Self chec ehealth reminder so you won’t forget.


Understanding Heart Diseases

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the US. About 600,000 people die every year. Heart disease is actually an umbrella term that covers many types of heart conditions. 

Coronary Heart Diseases (CHD)
The most dangerous and most common is coronary heart disease, called a circulatory disorder because it involves the circulation system of arteries and other blood vessels. CHD typically occurs when arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrow or blocked and hardened from the build-up of plaque. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood; its build-up is called atherosclerosis. 

There are three major types of CHD, depending on where the plaque is found: 

  • Coronary artery disease: plaque lines arteries that supply blood to the heart; it’s the number one cause of heart attacks.
  • Peripheral artery disease: plaque lines arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs.
  • Carotid artery disease: plaque lines arteries that supply blood to the brain. 

The decrease in blood flow due to plaque build-up can lead to chest pain known as angina and progress to a heart attack. A heart attack can happen when arteries become so clogged that the flow of blood to the heart is reduced or stopped; the resulting lack of oxygen damages or kills the heart muscle. Having high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, smoking, increased age, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and having had a previous heart attack or family history of stroke, obesity or diabetes increase heart attack risk.  

Heart Failure & Other Structural Disorders
Heart failure is a condition that usually happens slowly, over time. It’s considered a structural disorder because it typically occurs after an injury to the heart muscle from uncontrolled high blood pressure, a heart attack or a faulty heart valve. Enlargement of the heart, a family history of an enlarged heart and diabetes are other risk factors. 

When injury to the heart muscle leaves it weakened it has to work overtime to keep up with the body’s demands. This can leave you tired and weak. Other signs of heart failure include shortness of breath, having difficulty breathing when lying down and swelling in the legs and feet. 

Heart valve problems, which can be inherited or develop on their own, are other structural problems, affecting the heart’s ability to push blood from chamber to chamber. 

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm caused by a problem with the heart’s electrical system, the system that regulates the heartbeat. Some arrhythmias start in the heart’s upper chambers, called the atria; others involve the lower chambers, called the ventricles. 

Depending on the type of arrhythmia, you can develop a heart rate that’s too slow or too fast, one that may stay out of whack or come and go. Some types are life-threatening, while others may be more bothersome than dangerous. The most common is atrial fibrillation (afib), a fibrillation or twitching in the atria that raises the risk for stroke, a serious health threat. Think of a stroke as a brain attack. While some strokes occur when a blood vessel bursts, most happen due to clogged or blocked vessels to the brain in the same way clogged vessels in the heart can cause a heart attack. Abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter can lead to the formation of blood clots in the heart. When dislodged, a blood clot can travel to the brain, block a vessel and cause a stroke. For more a stroke, see the section below. 

Despite its name, not everyone with afib experiences symptoms until there’s a complication. A lack of energy is the most common symptom; a fast or irregular pulse, shortness of breath and heart palpitations are some of the others. The Heart Rhythm Society offers an online risk assessment to help you know if your risk of afib is high. Take it at


Heart Disease & Stroke Risk Factors

According to the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, the following are risk factors for both heart disease and stroke:

  • High blood pressure, typically 140/90 mmHg or higher; 130/80 mmHg or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Smoking, including being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Being overweight or obese, typically a body mass index or BMI of 25 or more; check this calculation of your height/weight ratio at
  • Being sedentary
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Being of an older age (typically 55 or older for women, younger for men)

Additional risk factors for stroke include:

  • Having a heart disease such as coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation
  • Having a brain condition, such as an aneurysm, a balloon-like bulge in an artery that can stretch and burst, or an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of faulty arteries and veins that can rupture within the brain
  • At younger ages, more men than women have strokes. However, women are more likely to die from strokes.
  • Women who take birth control pills are at slightly higher risk of stroke.
  • Your ethnic background. Strokes occur more often in African American, Alaska Native, and American Indian adults than in Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian American adults.
  • Personal or family history of stroke or TIA, thought of as a mini- or pre-stroke
  • Substance use, including cocaine and amphetamines
  • Stress and depression

bigstock-heart-of-fruits-and-vegetables-184383741-700x6466 Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Five key healthy lifestyle habits can help you prevent heart disease, while their unhealthy counterparts can increase your risk. 

Eat Healthy

Eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which raise blood cholesterol levels and promote atherosclerosis, has been linked to heart disease and related conditions. High salt consumption raises blood pressure, another heart disease risk factor. Rethinking your diet can help. Eat plenty of high-fiber fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Choose fish as a protein source, and reduce
full-fat dairy and red meat in your diet, foods high in saturated fat. Cut back on salt, especially in processed foods.
  For more, go to


Lose WeightGet to a healthy weight. Being obese is linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower HDL (good) cholesterol as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. Being obese or even just overweight can increase heart disease risk. Eating healthier and eating less calories (even healthy ones) will help you shed excess pounds. To find out how to create a successful diet, go to


ExerciseGet regular exercise. Leading a sedentary lifestyle and not getting enough physical activity are linked to heart disease and can also impact a variety of general health risks, all of which in turn raise heart disease risk: obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and diabetes. On the other hand, getting regular physical activity can lower all these risk factors. Exercise goes hand in hand with a healthy diet to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. National guidelines are to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. This can be broken down into a series of just 10-minute bouts. For more on working fitness into your daily routine, go to


Stop SmokingStop smoking. Tobacco can have as serious an effect on your heart as it does on your lungs, raising both heart disease and heart attack risks. Cigarette smoking promotes atherosclerosis; nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, raises blood pressure; and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that blood can carry. Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart disease in nonsmokers. The message is clear: If you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you do smoke, quit now. For how to quit successfully, go to


Drink LessDrink less. Too much alcohol harms your heart in many ways. It raises blood pressure and triglycerides, a contributing factor in atherosclerosis. To find out about alcohol guidelines, go to



 Reduce stress. Stress can increase your risk of a heart attack and a stroke. Find ways to relax at




Recognizing the warning signs of heart disease, heart attack and stroke can help you get prompt attention.

Angina Awareness
Think of angina as a warning sign of heart disease. Recognizing it and getting treated early may prevent a heart attack. As heart disease progresses, you may experience angina signs—tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest during physical activity or when stressed. Once the extra demand for blood and oxygen stops—you stop exercising or stress is eased, so do the symptoms.

Angina symptoms in women can also include feeling out of breath, nausea, vomiting, gastric discomfort or sharp chest pain. One explanation for these differences is that heart disease in men is more often due to blockages in their coronary arteries from coronary artery disease.  Women more frequently develop heart disease within the very small arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries.


In men, chest pain may feel like:




It may occur:

During physical activity

When stressed

In women, it may also include:

Feeling out of breath



Gastric discomfort

If you experience angina pain,
call your doctor or 911 immediately.

Heart Attack Awareness
Every year about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack—two-thirds are a first heart attack, and one third are repeat heart attacks.

A heart attack can happen when the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off. Cells don’t get enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.

Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and getting immediate emergency treatment can limit or prevent heart muscle damage. 



The five most common symptoms of a heart attack in men are:

Chest pressure or pain

Shortness of breath

Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder

Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back

Feeling weak, lightheaded or nauseous

In women, the most commonly reported symptoms are:

Unusual fatigue

Sleep disturbance

Shortness of breath



If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. The faster people are treated for a heart attack, the better their chances of survival and good recovery.

Stroke Awareness
A stroke is like a heart attack that happens in the brain. To help you recognize the signs of stroke, think F-A-S-T.

F: Facial signs of a stroke include drooping or numbness on just one side of the face. You may see an uneven smile.

A: Arm weakness or numbness on just one side of the body is another sign. Often if both arms are lifted, one will drift downward.

S: Speech is slurred or hard to understand or the person is unable to speak or accurately repeat a simple sentence.

T: Time is of the essence. If you see any of the above symptoms, call 911 even if the symptoms seem to go away. The affected person needs to get to the hospital FAST


 A stroke can cause:

Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body

Sudden confusion 

Lack of understanding what’s going on around you

Inability to see or walk


Loss of balance

Sudden severe headache with no known cause


Your Heart Disease Risk Calculator

The Siteman Cancer Center has developed an easy-to-use tool that will help you determine what your risk may be of getting diabetes. Click here to use it and then click your back button to return to the Self chec site for much more keeping healthy information.

IMPORTANT: The information on this page is from The National Institute of Heart, Lung & Blood Diseases, National Institute of Health (NIH),  American Heart Association (AHA), CDC and the Heart Rhythm Society. Don’t forget to always consult a healthcare professional to advise you in the healthy choices you will make. Thank you.

Join the conversation about Heart Diseases:


One Comment to “Heart

  1. Mike D.

    I didn’t even know how dangerously close to death I might have been when my doctor, in a routine visit, asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was eating right and exercising every day, but had a little difficulty breathing when I was walking fast in cold weather. He told me it could be a symptom of a clogged artery and wanted to check it out. First I had a stress test and then checked into the hospital, had an angiogram and sure enough needed a stent. The next day I was out of the hospital and feeling great. Long live early detection. It saved my life. We are the only ones in charge of our bodies, so check with your doctor for even the smallest symptom. You could be saving your life, too.

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