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From the internet to the nightly news, there’s a lot of information out there on heart disease risk factors, eating a heart-healthy diet, signs of a heart attack and much more. But heart disease prevention is more than watching things like your blood pressure.

That’s why it’s always a great time to dig deeper into just what heart disease is and the best ways to prevent it. It’s also why I wanted to review some of the most common heart disease questions I hear, so you can start a discussion with your doctor about what heart wellness looks like for you.

What is heart disease? What does it have to do with heart wellness?

Heart disease isn’t actually one condition, but several. It’s a broad umbrella term describing a variety of conditions that affect your heart’s ability to move blood around your body.

We group heart disease into four main categories:

  • Circulatory heart disease (also called cardiovascular disease) involves blockages or problems with your arteries and veins. Heart attacks are a well-known example of circulatory heart disease.
  • Electrical heart disease includes issues with how your heart beats, like arrhythmia.
  • Heart valve disease is when there’s a problem with one or more of the four valves that control how blood moves inside your heart. Aortic stenosis and aortic regurgitation are some of the most common types of valvular heart disease.
  • Muscular heart disease (also called cardiomyopathy) involves issues with the muscle tissue in your heart, making it difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively.

Heart disease can affect anyone, and indicators for heart disease can be present before they develop into full-fledged conditions. We call this subclinical heart disease, and it’s one of the main reasons why it’s so important to pay special attention to your heart wellness. That means learning about your risk factors, managing them and living well to help prevent all kinds of heart disease.

What causes heart disease? Can heart disease be reversed?

Because heart disease involves so many different conditions, there can be many possible causes, like plaque buildup in your arteries, inherited vulnerability, infections and more.

Thanks to exciting medical advances, my colleagues and I are able to help improve a wide range of heart disease issues, which means significantly improved quality of life and better outcomes for patients. But the easiest way to treat heart disease is to prevent it, and that means lowering your risk by making smart lifestyle choices in areas known to contribute to heart disease.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Heart disease risk factors include smoking and vaping, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), too much stress, not enough exercise and a poor diet. These factors have been linked to heart attacks, heart failure and several other forms of heart disease.

A family history of heart problems can also make you more likely to develop heart disease because some conditions – like arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy – can be inherited. If you know that a relative was diagnosed with heart disease, I definitely recommend you check in regularly with your doctor to be proactive about spotting potential issues early.

What’s best for heart disease prevention?

You need to know your numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and body mass index (BMI), to start. Regardless of your family history, working with your doctor to keep an eye on these vital heart health indicators is crucial.

But it’s also crucial that you do more than just watch your numbers: Take the initiative to help keep them in good ranges. At a basic level, that means staying active through a regular exercise routine and eating a healthy diet. Too much salt and too much sugar are definitely things to avoid, along with smoking and vaping. You’ll also want to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and keeping your stress levels manageable.

By making some lifestyle adjustments now, you can help avoid heart disease problems down the road. If you need help or guidance on where to start, it’s a great idea to connect with your primary care doctor for customized advice.

At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, my colleagues and I have a collaborative, coordinated approach to heart care. That means our doctors and specialists work together to connect you with the right resources so you can take control of your heart health. We use decades of cardiology research and best practices from organizations like the American College of Cardiology. But we always look at each person in particular and choose the best treatment plan based on your individual situation. There are many different choices you can make that lead to better heart wellness – we make it a point to bring you into the process to go over your options for getting the right care in a way that works for you.

Taking the next steps toward good heart health

If you’re experiencing any initial heart disease symptoms – like chronic shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain – there’s lots of new knowledge and research coming out, meaning more heart disease treatment options are now available. But keep in mind that the latest and greatest might not always be what you need. Instead, look for team-based methods centered on what’s going to be most effective for you personally.

Ultimately though, when it comes to heart disease prevention, it’s not just about information – it’s about forming a heart wellness partnership with your doctor. Working with your doctor to incorporate good habits into your routine will lead to your best heart health. I’m always so happy to talk to patients where simple acts to manage heart disease risk factors blossomed into a new hobby, like bicycling or cooking. Your doctor can help you discover a tailored, engaging heart wellness plan that’s more than merely following a set of directions.

If you haven’t visited lately, set up an appointment with one of our primary care doctors today. No matter who you are or where you’re at in life, it’s never too early to prevent heart disease and promote heart wellness.