Heart disease killed Carrie Fisher and George Michael — don't let it kill you
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As we gear up for 2017, we are still rebounding from the effects of 2016 and still mourning the loss of many loved ones, friends and even celebrities. In the month of December alone, we lost two American icons, Carrie Fisher and George Michael, and both from heart disease.

While their deaths were shocking, the etiology of their death was not. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one out of four or more than 600,000 Americans dying of heart disease each year.

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Heart disease actually is inclusive of several types of heart conditions, with the most common being coronary artery disease. Other types include valvular heart disease and heart failure.

There are several risk factors for heart disease including age greater than 55 and family history which can not be changed.

However, fortunately, there are several other risk factors that can be prevented, reduced and possibly reversed and knowing these risk factors are paramount. They include having high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and being diabetic. People who smoke, are overweight, who do not exercise and have poor eating habits are also at significantly increased risk of developing heart disease. All of these risk factors can lead to narrowing of the arteries, hardening of the arteries, and the plaque formation which causes heart attacks and strokes.

Often times, heart disease is a mute disease, in that many people do not experience any symptoms. Those that due may have chest pain or chest tightness. This pain or discomfort may radiate to the jaw, arm or back. Others experience shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and leg swelling.

Treatment options include medications to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Medications to treat diabetes and blood thinners such as Aspirin and Plavix to help decrease clot formation. Treatment options also include medical procedures or surgery. If medications aren't enough, procedures such as angioplasty and adding a stent or Arterial bypass surgeries may be recommended.

The most important treatment, your healthcare provider will recommend is lifestyle changes that not only help to treat heart disease but can prevent heart disease as well. What are these changes?

  1. Make better choices when it comes to your diet. Eating better helps to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure by decreasing you salt intake. Avoid fatty and fried foods and choose healthy option when eating fast foods.

  1. Move your body. If it has been an extended time since you’ve exercise, you may want to discuss a new exercise program with your doctor before you start one. Cardiovascular disease is great for decreasing your cholesterol, and losing weight. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise everyday to reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes.  In fact, Harvard School of Public Health and in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), found that as little as 2.5 hours of exercise every week could reduce heart problems by 14 percent. That’s approximately 21 minutes per day, so a little does go a long way. Take the stairs daily and don’t drive everywhere. Remember to always hydrate well before, during and after exercise.

  1. Modify your vices. If you smoke, Stop. Drink alcohol in moderation, which is not more than 1 to 2 drinks per day. If you need help with smoking cessation or alcohol cessation, there are many online and community programs which can help. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or American Medical Association for additional resources.

  1. Manage your stress. Increased stress that is poorly managed leads to weight gain, high blood pressure and increased blood sugars. Meditation, Exercise, proper rest and time dedicated to relaxation can help alleviate stress.

Heart disease may be the number one cause death in America, but it also one of the most preventable.

Dr. Lisa Ashe serves as the medical director of Be Well Medical Group, a leading concierge medicine and wellness group currently serving the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia metro areas.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.