Getting to the Heart of Cardiac Health

**Editor’s Note: This is part of an informational series called Notes from the Nurse to increase awareness and understanding of health or clinical issues that could impact our clients and their families.

Notes from the Nurse LogoThe heart is the center of our being. We cannot sustain life without it.

February is American Heart Month where we focus on heart health. Heart disease, which is a term for several types of heart conditions, can happen to anyone at any age.

More than 420,000 New Jerseyans have coronary artery disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Coronary artery disease affects blood flow to the heart. Coronary arteries are the special vessels that carry blood to and from the heart.

Heart disease can be silent and deadly. Symptoms of heart disease are a heart attack or heart failure.

While most people are educated on symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain/discomfort, upper back or neck pain, jaw pain, indigestion, shortness of breath, dizziness and vomiting are some) heart failure can be more subtle. Heart failure symptoms include swelling of several areas of the body including the feet, ankles, legs abdomen or neck veins.

High blood pressure, smoking, diet, weight, alcohol use and high cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease.

High blood pressure is when the blood your heart pumps puts pressure on the artery walls. Your arteries are the “superhighways” of the circulatory system that carry oxygenated blood to other parts of the body.

Your blood pressure consists of two numbers-the systolic and diastolic pressures. The first number, the larger one, is an indicator of the pressure as blood is pushed through the heart. The second one, usually lower, is a measurement of the pressure maintained between heartbeats.

Not only does your blood pressure impact heart health, but exceedingly high blood pressure can also cause a stroke and studies are linking high blood pressure to a higher risk of dementia.

Lack of sleep can also lead to high blood pressure since your blood pressure naturally decreases when you sleep. When you do not sleep, your blood pressure stays higher longer. A good night’s sleep is good for your health!

Anyone can have high blood pressure at any age, which is why the doctor always checks it during any visit. Family history also plays a part in your risk.

Regular annual physicals with bloodwork are essential in the early detection and prevention of heart disease. Monitoring your blood pressure, watching your cholesterol and triglycerides and quitting smoking will all help prevent heart issues.

High cholesterol can damage the arteries with “hardening” called atherosclerosis when fat and calcium build up inside the vessel, called plaque, restricting blood flow.

Smoking also causes plaque to build up in the blood vessels. Chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause blood to thicken and clot in the veins and arteries. Smokers also have a high risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is a weakened area of the aorta in the abdomen—or the main vessel that carries blood throughout the body. If the aneurysm ruptures, it can cause death since it is a major “superhighway” of the circulatory system.

Eating healthy foods like leafy green vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish will help keep your heart healthy. Exercise is also key, not only to exercise your heart but to keep your weight down.

Home care can help cardiac patients in many ways from medication and exercise reminders, meal preparation, personal care and companionship for mental health.

Heart health affects so many body systems. Paying attention to it is key to good health.

Yours in good health,

Stephen Hoelle, RN-BC

Director of Nursing


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