American Heart Month: Maintaining a Healthy Heart with Chronic Illness
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. Did you know that chronic illness increases your risk of developing heart disease?
Chronic inflammation is at the center of most autoimmune and cardiovascular conditions. Since the heart is essentially a pump, anything that affects blood vessels and arteries will also interfere with the heart’s function. Therefore, people living with chronic inflammation are more likely to develop heart problems.
Watch the Video: American Heart Month: Maintaining a Healthy Heart with Chronic Illness
Chronic Illnesses and Heart Disease
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Although RA mainly attacks your joints, it can also affect other tissues, including the heart.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients are almost twice as likely to develop premature heart disease than individuals without the condition. The increased risk is due to cytokines (inflammatory substances) that trigger joint damage and also cause damage to blood vessels.
The chronic inflammation triggered by RA over time causes plaque buildup in your arteries. As a result, your blood vessels narrow, hindering blood flow and forcing your heart to work harder.
Lupus affects everyone differently, but many patients develop heart problems because the chronic inflammation caused by the disease can affect the cardiovascular system in many ways and cause any of the following:
• Coronary Artery Disease – Plaque buildup in the arteries decreases blood flow. If arteries become entirely blocked, it will trigger a heart attack
• Endocarditis – This is inflammation of the heart’s walls and valves. The swelling can cause clumps of material to build up, which can break away and form blood clots
• Myocarditis – This is inflammation of the heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue with exertion, swelling, and irregular heartbeat
• Pericarditis – This condition involves inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, which can result in shortness of breath, chest pain, and pain while taking a deep breath as a heart attack or stroke.
Ways You Can Help Maintain Good Heart Health
Speak to Your Doctor About Your Unique Risk Factors.
Heart disease can affect anyone. However, your family history, age, sex, ethnicity, and disease progression can all impact your heart’s health.
Quitting smoking can help lower your risk of developing heart disease and from suffering a heart attack.
However, avoiding secondhand smoke is equally important. Keep your distance from anyone smoking in public areas, and ask your guests to smoke outside, never in your home.
Stay As Active As Your Condition Allows
Regular physical activity that elevates your heart rate can help prevent heart disease.
We suggest you speak to your doctor or physical therapist to find out which exercises are suitable for your condition and fitness level.
Please do not start an exercise routine without speaking to your healthcare provider first.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
A heart-healthy diet includes foods low in saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium.
Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants which can help protect your heart. Before making any dietary changes, speak to your doctor, as certain foods can trigger disease flare-ups.
High-stress levels can wreak havoc on your body, including your heart.
Deep breathing exercises and meditation are excellent ways to relax and manage stress.
As we celebrate American Heart Month, we urge you to assess your risk for cardiovascular disease and take steps to protect your heart.