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Tips, Tips, Tips!

Tips + Signs for Cardiovascular Health

Man with cane

February is Heart Month. Celebrate by watching for these warning signs of cardiovascular disease and following these tips for cardiovascular health. They are offered by the cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and vascular surgeons of the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Watch for Vascular Disease Warning Signs

Your vascular system consists of your blood vessels - arteries, veins and capillaries. A well-functioning vascular system is vital for good health, allowing your blood to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, organs and brain. Vascular disease often develops silently. Watch for these signs.

1. Leg Pain

Do not ignore crampy calf or thigh pain that you feel when walking. This may be intermittent claudication, a condition associated with blocked arteries or peripheral artery disease (PAD). Treatment to improve walking and prevent possible limb loss is available.

2. Sores that Won't Heal

Check with a vascular surgeon about any chronic wound in your foot, ankle or leg that doesn't seem to heal. Ulcers can indicate blocked veins, poor circulation or other serious conditions that can be helped with the right treatments.

3. Sudden Paralysis, Weakness on One Side or Difficulty Speaking

These are among the most common symptoms of stroke. They may be caused by blockages in the carotid arteries that interrupt blood flow to the brain.

4. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

This balloon-like weakening of your central artery may not cause symptoms until a sudden, life-threatening rupture. A simple ultrasound can detect AAA to allow preventive treatment. Screenings are recommended for anyone over 60, especially if you have ever smoked, or if you are over 50 with a family history.

5. Ripping Chest Pain

Extreme chest pain that feels as though it is ripping or tearing through your chest may be a dissecting aneurysm - a lengthwise tear in an artery - rather than a heart attack. Either way, call 911 immediately for quick evaluation and possible emergency surgery.

6. Swollen Varicose Veins

Most of us recognize varicose veins, but when are they serious enough to warrant medical attention? See a vascular surgeon if your veins feel heavy or painful, if your leg is swollen or if the veins are accompanied by sores.

Watch for Coronary Artery Disease Warning Signs

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) affects more than 13 million Americans. Caused by blockages in the arteries that nourish the heart with blood, it can lead to heart attacks and is the most common cause of death in the United States. Watch for these warning signs.

1. Chest Discomfort

Also known as angina, mild to severe pain, tightness, pressure or tingling can be a sign of CAD. These sensations can be triggered by eating, emotion, exercise, cold weather - or nothing at all.

2. Pain in Strange Places

You can also feel discomfort or pain in unexpected spots like the jaw, arms, left shoulder, neck or back. Sometimes pain starts in the chest and spreads toward the left.

3. Breathing Trouble

Shortness of breath can be a symptom of either heart or lung disorders. Both are serious. If you have difficulty breathing, consult your doctor.

4. "Digestive" Distress

Heart trouble can make you feel full, nauseous or as though you're choking or have heartburn. It can cause stomach pain and even make you vomit.

5. Flip-Flopping Heart

Rapid or irregular heartbeats usually signal an arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation. But they can also be a sign of coronary artery disease. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

6. Dizziness

CAD can spook you by making you feel dizzy, light-headed, anxious, fatigued or sleepless. You can also break into a hot or cold sweat.

Tips for Heart Health

There are many things you can do to help keep your heart healthy.

1. Schedule a Check-Up

Your doctor can help you manage cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and other conditions that lead to heart disease. But only if he/she knows you have them!

2. Eat Your Fish

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish - or fish-oil capsules - will increase your good cholesterol and help with circulation, brain function, memory, depression and more.

3. Get Up and Move

Make exercise part of your getting-up-in-the-morning routine. Walking is a great way for almost everyone to get prevent weight gain and keep the heart strong.

4. Cut Down on Salt

Excess salt causes you to retain excess water, placing pressure on your blood vessels and heart. Read food labels, avoid processed and fast foods and just say no to dill pickles!

5. Avoid Trans Fats

In general, oil from nuts, seeds, plants and fish is okay in moderation. Avoid artery-clogging trans fats in fast foods like French fries, commercial baked goods like doughnuts, and many candy bars.

6. Cut 100 Calories a Day

A healthy body weight is good for your heart. If you cut 100 calories from your diet each day for a year, you'll lose 10 pounds. If you are overweight, skip that can of soda, chunk of cheese or serving of mayo.

7. Quit Smoking

You already know this but ... smoking is really, really bad for you. It damages your arteries, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke. Find a way to kick the habit.

Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted February 2012

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215