All types of heart or vascular disease may be collectively known as cardiovascular disease, but who is at risk for heart disease? The most common factors for developing cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so overweight, smoking, and inactive individuals — as well as those with diabetes — are more at risk. Just keep in mind that some risk factors (such as age or genetic build) aren’t modifiable.
If you or someone you love experienced a sudden cardiac episode, or if you have heart disease and face heightened risk, it’s important to know what to do next. Start by working with your doctors to determine the next best plan of action. You’ll want to address your specific risk factors, and a cardiac care team can help you implement a plan of action in the event you notice the onset of an episode.
A cardiac episode is a health event that may include a new cardiac event, decompensation of chronic cardiac disease, or an acute event due to or related to underlying cardiovascular disease. It occurs when something interrupts your heart’s function or blood flow, which is why having any form of heart disease could be a precursor to a cardiac event.
Acute cardiac episodes or events lead to decompensated cardiac function, which can then impact your pulmonary, vascular, or neurological systems. In other words, a cardiac episode affects your heart’s ability to function properly.
The Signs of a Cardiac Episode
Heart disease and cardiac episodes come in all forms and severities, so it’s important to identify what yours may look like. Common factors leading up to cardiovascular events include heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). Additionally, certain malignant cancers and the drugs used to treat them can lead to blood clots, which can block blood flow to the heart and cause cardiac episodes.
It’s also important to know whether you’re experiencing the symptoms of another cardiac episode so that you can take action as soon as possible. You might feel heaviness or tightness in your chest or chest pain that spreads to your stomach, throat, jaw, shoulder blades, or arms. Sudden nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, or dizziness can also signify a cardiac event.
If you begin to experience signs of a cardiac episode, such as a blood clot in the heart or lungs, or the beginnings of a heart attack, it’s vital to seek emergency assistance immediately. Acting quickly can mitigate any damage to your heart muscle, and it’s always better to play it safe.
How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Heart Health
In addition to watching for those signs of an oncoming episode, take these steps to help your cardiologist provide you with better care:
- Keep a diary of observations, such as if you experience instances of irregular heart rate, chest pain, or palpitations, and note how regularly they occur. Write down the foods you’ve eaten and any exercises and activities you were engaged in when symptoms occurred. This information can be valuable in determining the cause of your cardiac episode.
- Note how you felt just before the episode: Did the symptoms occur gradually, or did they develop suddenly? Did you feel anxious, were you active, or were you resting? This diary may help your doctor determine the cause of your irregular heart rate, palpitations, or chest pain.
- Make your doctor aware of any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal remedies.
- Remind your doctor if you have a history of diabetes or disease of the liver, kidney, or heart. If you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure, then your heart risks may be greater than usual — be sure to notify your doctor of this history, as well.
- With your healthcare provider, design a specific exercise program that will best suit your heart health and lifestyle. Exercising within the level you can tolerate helps you maintain your heart’s ability to function optimally and without interruption. If you don’t already, then it’s important to start.
- If your doctor prescribes you medication for your heart disease, do not stop taking it unless your doctor directs you to. Take your medication exactly as directed, and don’t share pills with anyone else. If you miss a dose, discuss next steps with your healthcare provider. Also, try to restrict or eliminate your consumption of alcohol, as it can adversely affect your medication.
- If you experience symptoms or side effects from your medication, even if they don’t seem severe, discuss them with your healthcare team. They can prescribe alternate medications or offer other suggestions to effectively manage your condition without the debilitating side effects.
After your cardiac episode and visit with your doctor, attend all of your scheduled appointments and adhere to your treatments to help you stick to healthier life choices, and manage your heart health more successfully. For optimal results, your doctor may recommend a cardiac rehab program immediately after your hospital visit. If you want to learn more about cardio health and rehabbing care, or if you know someone who is at risk for heart disease, contact us and speak with our team today.