Pomerene Hospital Blog
Heart Health Q&A
In February we celebrate National Heart Month. We want to educate our community about the risks of heart disease, how to prevent it, and how to keep your heart happy and healthy! Pomerene's Cardiology Team answered some of the most commonly asked questions about heart health:
Can you explain what blood pressure numbers mean? What do the top and bottom numbers represent?
Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The top (systolic) number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The bottom (diastolic) number represents the pressure in your vessels when your heart rests between beats. Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the top number) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease. However, elevated systolic (top number) or diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure alone may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, a normal blood pressure has numbers that are within the optimal range of less than 120/80 mmHg. The early stage of high blood pressure is considered Prehypertension. Prehypertension is when your blood pressure is consistently in the range of 120-139/80-89 mmHg. Consistently being in this range makes it more likely for you to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control it. Hypertension is when your blood pressure is consistently greater than 140/90 mmHg. With consistent hypertension, your doctor is likely to talk to you about lifestyle changes and will possibly prescribe a medication to control your blood pressure. It is important to take blood pressure medications regularly as prescribed. Stopping suddenly can be dangerous.
Hypertension that is left uncontrolled or undetected can lead to a number of health problems:
Heart Attack, Stroke, Heart Failure, Kidney Disease or Failure, Vision Loss, Sexual Dysfunction, Angina (Chest Pain), and/or Peripheral Artery Disease.
Lifestyle changes that can be made to lower your blood pressure include:
- Choose heart-healthy foods
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol
- Control stress
How does the heart work and can you explain how the heart can bounce back from injury or disease?
We only have one heart. That heart needs to be protected and “loved”. The heart is made up of special muscle tissue. Because it is continuously working throughout an entire lifetime without any rest, the heart muscle is unique. The heart muscle cells have the ability to work together as a team and maintain a rhythm. This rhythm allows for blood to flow throughout the body carrying oxygen and nutrients to the organs and cells. If there is a blockage or heart attack (lack of proper blood flow to an area of the heart) that part of the heart muscle could be damaged. It is possible for the heart to heal by forming scar tissue. Even if a part of the heart is injured the rest of the heart will work. In this case the heart may be weaker and pump less efficiently. If the blockage was detected before permanent damage was done it is possible to restore blood flow to that part of the heart. Treatment and lifestyle changes can prevent or limit further damage.
How do I know when to see a doctor about my heart?
If you are concerned about your blood pressure readings, take your blood pressure at the same time everyday for a week or two. Keep a log of these readings and show them to your doctor. Your doctor can then address your concern with the data you provide.
A hypertensive (high blood pressure) crisis is a medical emergency. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/110 mmHg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, call 911 or report to the emergency room immediately. Reporting to the emergency room is especially important if you are also experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, vision changes or difficulty speaking.
If you are having concerns about the possibility of having heart disease, do not be afraid to talk to your doctor. Some people can experience more subtle symptoms that turn out to be heart blockages. Some of these symptoms include increased fatigue and shortness of breath over a period of time.
Having chest pain or discomfort (often involve pressure, tightness or heaviness) may be a signal to you that something is emergently wrong with your heart. Other symptoms may also indicate something is wrong. These other symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck, back or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
If you experience any chest discomfort and/or other symptoms, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately. If it is a heart attack you are having, the less time you are having the heart attack results in less muscle that can be damaged.
For someone with heart disease, how can exercise be beneficial?
Exercise helps your body to:
- Lower the risk of having another cardiac event
- Lower risk for stroke
- Improve muscle strength
- Increase endurance
- Increase flexibility
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Burn calories, which helps reduce weight
- May raise good cholesterol called HDL while lowering total cholesterol
- Improve circulation to prevent blockage in leg arteries called peripheral vascular disease
- Maintain bone density
- Increase energy
- Enhance sleep
- Lower stress levels
- Raise self-esteem
- Improve mood
What are some “heart healthy” foods and nutritional tips?
We recommend following the American Heart Association’s recommendations for heart-healthy foods. Those 10 tips will keep you on the right track to a healthy heart.
Eat a variety of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars. Replace high-calorie
foods with fruits and vegetables.
Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
Choose poultry and fish without skin and prepare them in healthy ways without added saturated and trans fat. If you choose to eat meat, look for
the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy and delicious ways.
Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring).
Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
Limit saturated fat and trans fat and replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. If you need to lower your blood cholesterol,
reduce saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated
Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt. To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per
day. Reducing daily intake to 1,500 mg is desirable because it can lower blood pressure even further. If you can’t meet these goals right now, even
reducing sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can benefit blood pressure.
If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Written by: Marcia Bitner, RN, BSN, Pomerene Cardiac Rehab Coordinator
Pomerene Cardiology Team