It’s Heart Month: Follow These 7 Habits to Decrease Your Risk of Heart Disease

“Heart disease takes the lives of far too many people in this country, depriving their families and communities of someone they love and care for—a father, a mother, a wife, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse. With more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes a year, and 800,000 deaths, just about all of us have been touched by someone who has had heart disease, heart attack, or a stroke.”
– Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular or heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, which equals 2,200 deaths per day.

Christopher Rivera, MD, a family medicine physician with Family Medical Center of Lincoln, defines heart disease for his patients as “a term used to describe any condition of the heart that impairs its ability to work.”

“Another term often used is coronary heart disease, which refers to the narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels of the heart, known as coronary arteries,” he said.

There are four main blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. Blockage to any one of these four blood vessels is the most common cause of heart disease and can lead to a heart attack or heart failure, Dr. Rivera said. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. Most heart attacks, though, start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.

Signs of a heart attack may include chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. Discomfort can also occur in other areas of the upper body such as in one or both arms, the back, jaw or stomach. Other signs may include shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort, breaking out into a cold sweat, a feeling of nausea or actual vomiting or a feeling of light headedness or dizziness.

“Heart attack symptoms in women can be the same as in men,” Dr. Rivera said. “However, women are more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain. If these symptoms last more than 10 minutes or they keep coming and going, call 9-1-1 for an ambulance and seek treatment immediately.”

To lessen chances of having a heart attack, Dr. Rivera advises his patients follow the American Heart Association’s seven recognized core health and behavioral areas to decrease the risk of heart disease.

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Engage in regular physical exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Manage blood pressure.
  • Manage cholesterol levels.
  • Keep blood sugar levels at a healthy level.

For additional information on heart health, Dr. Rivera suggests the American Heart Association’s website (