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Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Heart Disease Q&A

What are some things that I can do to prevent heart disease?

A lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, physical activity, and regular medical care can reduce your risk of heart disease. Preventive measures include:

If I have high blood pressure will I NEED to be on medications? Will I need medications forever?

Many people will need more than two medications for blood pressure, but non-medication treatments can be very effective. Reducing salt intake, weight loss and avoidance of excess alcohol all help to lower blood pressure without medication.

Is alcohol good for the heart?

Small amounts of alcohol do seem to have some protective effects for the heart. It's not clear that this benefit extends to people who begin drinking alcohol later in life. In addition, drinking more than 1 - 2 drinks per day can increase health risks. Drinking alcohol can also be dangerous in some health conditions. You should discuss alcohol consumption with your personal physician. In general, it is not recommended to start drinking to improve cardiovascular health.

Are fish oil / omega-3 supplements helpful?

The benefits of fish consumption on cardiovascular health include slowing the process of atherosclerosis (thickening and narrowing of arteries) and preventing sudden cardiac death. Fish consumption may also decrease the likelihood of having a heart attack or developing irregular heart beats. At very high doses, fish oil can reduce triglycerides ("blood fat").

The benefits of seafood and fish are likely from the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The ideal amount of EPA + DHA for heart protection is in the range of 250 500 mg/day or 2-3 grams per week. This can be achieved by eating relatively small amounts of fish (for example, 3 - 5 ounces of salmon a week). The content of omega-3 fatty acids in different fish can be found at the American Heart Association web site (http://bit.ly/fish-info).

The amount of DHA and EPA found in fish oil capsules varies in the range of 200 700 mg and can be an alternative to one to two servings of fish each week.

What does high cholesterol have to do with heart disease?

Hyperlipidemia refers to elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in blood. Having high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides can increase the risk of developing thickened or hardened arteries, also known as atherosclerotic heart disease. This in turn can lead to a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by narrowed heart arteries).

How can I lower my cholesterol without medications?

The first step for lowering cholesterol for ALL patients, whether taking medications or not, is to reduce saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. Cholesterol intake should be less than 200 mg daily.

What are some overlooked symptoms of a heart attack or narrowed artery?

Symptoms of a heart attack or narrowed artery include chest pain, shortness of breath, neck or jaw pain, abdominal pain or nausea. Unusual fatigue and weakness can be symptoms of a narrowed artery, especially in women.

When in doubt about your heart health, it is important to consult your doctor.

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