Heart disease and stroke are major causes of death and disability in Alaska. Our knowledge about preventing and treating these diseases continues to increase. Detecting the risk factors in your life and making positive changes can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke as well as improve your health if you already have disease. The major risk factors include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, low physical activity, poor diet, being overweight, and smoking. Some of these risks cause no symptoms until you have life-threatening disease.
High blood pressure (hypertension) causes strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys. There is usually no way to feel that your blood pressure is elevated. It should be checked at least every two years, and more often if someone in your family has high blood pressure or you are over the age of 45. High blood pressure can often be treated without medication. There are many safe and effective medications that can be used if needed.
High cholesterol can cause blockage of the arteries that leads to heart disease and stroke. Your body does not tell you when your cholesterol is elevated, so a blood test is needed to know your level. This blood test should be done every five years after the age of 35. If you are at higher risk, the screening should start at age 20. Cholesterol levels can often be improved by changing your diet and exercise habits. The recommendations for treatment have changed and are based on your overall risk of heart disease as well as the cholesterol level.
High blood sugar can cause damage to your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. You usually cannot detect high blood sugar until severe diabetes is present. Blood sugar levels should be checked at least every three years after the age of 40, especially if you are overweight or have other risk factors. It should always be checked during pregnancy. Often small elevations of blood sugar can be treated by weight loss and improved activity levels. Higher blood sugars require medication to prevent damage to the heart and many other areas of the body.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as to help combat the depression that is common during Alaskan winters. Physical activity reduces cholesterol levels and improves the protective high density lipoproteins (HDL). It improves energy levels, productivity at work and sleep. If you are exercising outside in Seward, be sure to wear cleats on the ice and have reflective clothes at night.
A healthy diet is important even if you do not need to lose weight. New guidelines emphasize a reduction in sugar and meats with an increase in vegetables and whole fruits. The guidelines encourage getting protein from fish and reducing animal fats. Salmon is rich in healthy protein as well as vitamin D.
A healthy weight is important to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as to decrease the likelihood of diabetes and high blood pressure. Shedding the extra pounds reduces the burden on you heart, lungs, and joints. Nearly 70% of Americans are overweight with a body mass index of over 30%. You can calculate your body mass index by visiting www.sewardhealthcenter.org.
Being overweight also increases your chances of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea often have snoring and periods of stopping breathing during sleep, morning headaches and difficulty staying awake during the day. It is essential you seek treatment if you have these symptoms to prevent heart attack, high blood pressure and accidents due to falling asleep while driving or working.
Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. There are many programs and resources to help you quit smoking. Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line is 1-800-Quit-Now (1-800-784-8669). Sometimes medication can help you stop smoking.
Seward Community Health Center will be hosting a Lunch & Learn educational session on Heart Health on Tuesday, February 9 from 12-1 pm at the SCHC Phoenix Room. Bring your lunch and curiosity for an engaging discussion on what you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Call Seward Community Health Center at 907-224-CARE (2273) for a complete cardiovascular risk factor evaluation and help with problem areas.
Seward Community Health Center, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that operates a federally qualified community health center located at 417 First Avenue inside the hospital facility. SCHC has three permanent providers to serve your primary care needs close to home. For more information, visit www.sewardhealthcenter.org.