Heart Disease 101

By Sheila Ferguson Ph.D., LPCC

I recently talked with retired Registered Nurse Corrie Tucker about heart health, heart disease warning signs, and steps to improve your health. According to Nurse Tucker Heart Disease, Hypertension, Hypercholesterolemia, and Stroke are all preventable, and require diligent medical support and self-care. She also says that attending to your health, nutrition, and exercise is critical. Working closely with your doctor is key to creating effective treatment outcomes and managing risks. Heart disease can be inherited, or lifestyle-related.

According to The American Heart Association, “heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, second to COIVD-19 and third to Cancer.”

Heart Mechanics

A healthy and well-functioning heart is essential to good health. Yet, heart disease develops across the life span and long before the diagnosis. A healthy heart muscle pumps blood from veins into arteries throughout the body. By age sixty, heart disease can take a toll if you have not been careful about your health. (Merck Manual, 2019)

The Problem

In the article “How You’re Most Likely to Die at Every Age” (2018), Medical Expert Hillary Bruek reports that decades of plaque build-up in our arteries limits blood flow throughout the body. Reduced blood flow decreases the flow of fresh oxygen to cells in our brain or heart, leading to deadly clots. At the same time, we are also unaware of the pressure building up in our blood vessels until a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure ensues. If blood pressure is a worry, work to reduce stress, quit smoking, get more physical activity, slim down, and cut extra salt from your diet.

Be on the alert for the following symptoms:

Chest pain that is crushing, heavy, squeezing, or burning and results in severe indigestion is the number one symptom of heart disease. Most often the pain is felt along the front of your body, from the neck down to the upper abdomen. There may also be pain under your breastbone, in the neck, arms, stomach, jaw, or upper back. It also signals poor blood flow and the relay of oxygen to the heart. The intensity of pain varies from person to person. Note: Women, elders, and people with diabetes may not have chest pain but instead experience symptoms of fatigue.

·    Shortness of breath occurs when the heart cannot pump blood, or blood backs up in the veins from the lungs. The fluid leaks into the lungs and causes shortness of breath as a symptom of heart failure. Watch out for shortness of breath during activity, while resting, lying flat on your back, or awakening from sleep.

Coughing or Wheezing that lingers signifies that fluid may have buildt up in your lungs. Watch for coughing up mucus that is pink or bloody.

·    Swelling in the Legs, Ankles, or Feet, called edema, is also a sign of heart disease.

   Narrowed Blood Vessels indicate poor circulation throughout the body and a higher risk of a heart attack. It commonly shows up in the legs as aches and pain, fatigue, burning, numbness, or discomfort in the muscles of your feet, calves, or thighs. The legs may also feel cool to the touch, or look pale. Symptoms are likely to increase while walking or exercising and go away after rest.

·   Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) symptoms include a stroke or a “brain attack.” Here blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body stops. The signs of stroke include difficulty moving the limbs on one side of your body, drooping on one side of the face, and problems speaking and or understanding language.

    Fatigue and tiredness can stem from needing more rest or stem from heart disease. Heart disease-related fatigue occurs when you feel too weak to stand up or complete your normal daily activities.

·     Fast or Uneven Heartbeat or Arrhythmias include palpitations, racing because your heart is not pumping blood well.


When to Call Your Doctor

Please Call 911 if you have

1) Chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack; or

2) Feel extremely short of breath, weak, clammy, or go in and out of consciousness.


Best Heart Smart Prevention Strategies

The Heart and Stroke Foundation (2022), suggests that we all have the power to establish heart-healthy routines by: 

  •        Increasing your daily fruit and vegetable intake
  •        Reducing the intake of processed foods, sugars, and saturated fats
  •       Losing weight by exercising 3-4 times per week for thirty minutes per day
  •      Quitting smoking
  •       Reducing stress with meditation, prayer, yoga, and more relaxation time









Healthy living | Heart and Stroke Foundation

How You are Most Likely to Die at Every Age in the US, From 0 to 65 (businessinsider.com)

Warning signs and symptoms of heart disease: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia