Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for American men and women. Heart disease, as it is more commonly referred to, kills one in three Americans (about 800,000 people) every year most often by manifesting itself in sudden and unforeseen ways. The nation spends billions annually on heart disease as cardiologists and general practitioners continually stress that the often deadly health condition must be addressed with utmost urgency.
Almost half of Americans face increased risk of heart disease for reasons that include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, improper diet coupled with lack of exercise (obesity), and often a family history of the condition. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) reports that more than one in four adults is at significant risk of heart disease and resulting stroke. At least 1.7 million county residents (about 28 percent of adults) have two or more of the five modifiable risk factors for heart disease (hypertension, diabetes, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity) and may not know it.
America’s expensive killer
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, nationally, about one in six healthcare dollars is spent on cardiovascular disease. Families who experience heart disease have to deal with not only medical bills, but also lost wages and a real possibility of a decreased standard of living. It was once believed that heart disease was a primary threat during old age, but that is no longer the case. About 150,000 Americans under age 65 die each year from heart disease. All totaled, heart disease kills roughly the same number of Americans each year as cancer, lower respiratory disease (including pneumonia) and accidents combined. As recently as 2013, heart disease cost the nation an estimated $320 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity. If you add stroke to the equation, which is closely aligned with heart disease, that dollar amount jumps to $475 billion a year.
Heart disease, to a large degree, is preventable but you must be aware of the risk factors. Even those persons with present multiple risk factors can get on the road to good health and that means eating right, exercising more, reducing stress, regular checkups and, above all, no smoking.
Know the warning signs
Heart attack, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing heart disease. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most begin slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Often people believe this is merely minor indigestion and do nothing more than take an antacid, or sometimes they are confused by the uncomfortable condition and simply do nothing and wait for the pain to subside. The DHS points to specific signs that you may be experiencing a heart attack, including:
—Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness/indigestion or mild to moderate pain.
—Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.