Close this search box.

The ABCs of Heart Disease

What To Know

Each year, February is designated as American Heart Month – a time to raise awareness about heart disease and focus on improving overall health. In honor of this year’s Heart Month, we’re sharing important information and helpful tips, with insights from cardiologists Dr. Aaron Soufer of The Chattanooga Heart Institute and Dr. Patrick Stevens of Erlanger Cardiology. 

What is Heart Disease?

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The term “heart disease” is an umbrella term that describes several types of cardiovascular conditions, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and more.

Common Types of Heart Disease Include:

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). CAD is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S., affecting 1 in 20 adults over the age of 20.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). PAD occurs when narrowed arteries impede blood flow to the body’s extremities (most commonly the legs).

Carotid Artery Disease. Carotid artery disease is responsible for up to a third of all strokes and occurs when the carotid arteries become narrowed.

Common Complications from Heart Disease Include:

Heart Attack. Roughly 805,000 people experience heart attacks in the U.S. each year, and about 200,000 of them will have already had at least one other heart attack.

Arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is an irregularity in the heartbeat which causes it to be too fast, too slow, or abnormal. The most common arrhythmia in the U.S. is atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the two chambers of the heart are out of sync.

Heart Failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot properly circulate blood to the other organs. Roughly 6.2 million adults in the U.S. have heart failure, according to the CDC.

Remember The ABCs of Heart Health:

Aspirin. In some cases, aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Before adding aspirin to your heart health routine, be sure to speak with your physician to determine if this is a good idea for you and take it as directed.

Blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases your risk of heart attack and stroke more than any other factor. If you have high blood pressure, speak with a medical professional to create a treatment plan. Eating a healthy diet and staying physically active are two simple ways to promote healthy blood pressure.

Cholesterol. Your body needs some cholesterol, but it can build up in your arteries and lead to heart disease if you have too much of it. Dietary changes and working with a physician can help address this.

Don’t smoke. Because smoking raises blood pressure, it greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, it is never too late to quit and there are plenty of resources available to help.

Risk Factors For Heart Disease

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Heart Disease FAQ

What should I do if I have a family history of heart disease?

“The basics of maintaining a healthy diet and adequate physical activity should be followed. Other important factors would be to stay on top of regular general practitioner visits to have blood pressure checked, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked when appropriate, and avoid tobacco products. It’s important to clarify which type of cardiac disease runs in the family, as certain issues may be less common and are treated differently.”
Dr. Soufer

What are the risks of unhealthy cholesterol levels?

“Elevated cholesterol levels over time can lead to deposits of cholesterol building up in blood vessels throughout the body including in the heart, brain, and legs. These can lead to devastating medical problems such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease (responsible for amputations when severe). Much like elevated blood pressure, there is no sign of a problem with elevated cholesterol until we see the downstream problem, so checking levels is very important.”
Dr. Stevens

What should I do if I have high blood pressure?

“When blood pressure is significantly elevated, people may experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, or vision changes. However, the vast majority of the time there will be no symptoms to point toward a problem. This is why establishing with a good primary care provider to check blood pressure several times per year is so important. Elevated blood pressure, even in early adulthood, can lead to problems in later decades and should be taken seriously at any age.”
Dr. Stevens

What can I do about high blood pressure and cholesterol?

“Control of blood pressure and cholesterol is aided by dietary modifications, increase in physical activity, and adherence to prescribed medications if necessary. Foods that can help with blood pressure include diets high in fiber and low in salt. Mediterranean and plant-based diets often help keep proper balance in cholesterol levels. Sometimes blood pressure and cholesterol cannot be controlled with lifestyle habits alone, at which point medications are often necessary.”
Dr. Soufer

Is there anything else I can do to keep my heart healthy?

“I would overall recommend starting healthy habits early in life and maintaining those over decades to see the most profound long-term benefits. The beneficial effects of healthy lifestyle habits – and the detrimental effects of poor lifestyle habits – are cumulative, and it’s best not to have to scramble to make those changes after irreversible effects on the cardiovascular system have already occurred.”
Dr. Soufer
“Whenever possible, avoid processed foods and minimize the intake of added sugars in your diet, including sodas. Be aware of the amount of daily calories in your diet. Most nutritional information uses 2,000 calories per day as a reasonable amount to maintain weight, but depending on age, gender, and body size, these numbers may be different. If you are trying to lose weight, then cutting caloric intake down from 2,000 calories daily will be key to maintaining weight loss.”
Dr. Stevens
Patrick Stevens, MD

Patrick Stevens, MD

Cardiologist, Erlanger Cardiology

Aaron Soufer, MD

Aaron Soufer, MD

Cardiologist, The Chattanooga Heart Institute

Get access to the next issue before it hits the stands!