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Could You Have This Common Health Problem and Not Know It?

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin

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Heart disease may go undiagnosed until it's too late. Here's how to be more aware of your risk.

Heart disease. It's one of the most common health conditions affecting Americans and is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it may not be so easy to spot. This serious disease often goes undetected at its earliest stages because it doesn't cause any symptoms. That's why if you have it, you may not know about it until it's too late, such as when you have a heart attack or experience heart failure.

Is heart disease easy to diagnose?

One reason it's not so easy to know if you have heart disease is that it's not so simple to check for it. A doctor can't tell whether you have a build-up of plaque in your arteries or determine if your heart muscle has weakened just by looking at you during an exam. The only way to get a very accurate picture of your heart's health is by doing expensive diagnostic tests that are sometimes invasive and often not recommended unless you already have symptoms. However, there are easy ways to identify conditions that affect your heart health, and these shouldn't be ignored.

What is the biggest risk factor for heart disease?

One of the biggest risks to your heart health is also one of the easiest to diagnose. It's high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is defined as having a systolic pressure over 130 mmHg and a diastolic pressure over 80 mmHg. Less than 25 percent of people with high blood pressure have it under control – and many don't even know they have the condition.

High blood pressure damages your arteries by making them stiffer and less elastic. This can decrease the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. It also forces your heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body, which can cause it to enlarge, thicken and not work as well as it should. Although the effects of high blood pressure may not be immediate, the damage it causes can go unnoticed for years before you develop any kind of symptoms.

How can you lower your risk?

Having your blood pressure checked regularly is an important step in keeping your heart healthier. By knowing if your blood pressure is high, you can take steps to lower it so it doesn't cause further harm. This may be done through lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, limiting alcohol and reducing stress. It may also require prescription medication to get your blood pressure into a healthy range.

The same lifestyle habits that help you manage your blood pressure also help to keep your heart healthier overall, so adopting these habits can lower your overall risk of developing heart disease. They also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is another major risk factor for heart disease.

Additionally, look out for any potential symptoms of heart disease and see a doctor if you experience them. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, fast or irregular heartbeat, fatigue, chronic coughing, wheezing or swelling in the legs and feet.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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