Tips For Healthier Living with Heart Disease

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By LISA M. PETSCHE

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for adults in the United States. Coronary artery disease (also known as arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries) is the most common type.

CAD is caused by accumulation in the coronary arteries of fatty deposits called plaques. This results in narrowing within the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart.

Typically CAD progresses over many years and may go undetected until a crisis occurs. Symptoms can include angina (usually brought on by physical exertion or emotional stress), shortness of breath, and, if a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, a heart attack.

A diagnosis of CAD can cause anxiety and fear. If heart disease runs in their family, the diagnosed person may become fatalistic, believing there’s no point in trying to manage their disease. Some people cope through denial, carrying on with their usual lifestyle. Others, particularly those who have had a heart attack, may embrace changes in habits that can help halt or slow disease progression.

Family members, too, respond in various ways. Anxiety and fear are common and may be manifested in behaviors such as regularly checking if their loved one has taken their medication, scrutinizing and criticizing their eating and other habits, and overprotectiveness (due to concern that any stress or physical exertion might cause a heart attack).

Coping Tips

If you have been diagnosed with CAD, here are ways to take charge of your situation.

  • Learn as much as possible about your disease and its management, and educate family and friends to help them understand.
  • Focus on controllable risk factors. Commit to making lifestyle changes, keeping in mind it takes several weeks to develop a new habit.
  • Find an outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings—perhaps talking with a friend or writing in a journal.
  • Stay connected to people who care.
  • Learn to live in the present and enjoy life’s simpler pleasures.
  • Set aside quiet time each day, to nurture your spirituality and help keep you grounded.
  • See your primary physician if you continually feel sad, angry, overwhelmed or unmotivated. Depression is treatable.

Practical Tips For Daily Living

  • Find a cardiologist whom you respect and trust.
  • Follow the prescribed management plan, which might include medication, a smoking cessation program, blood pressure monitoring, diet changes, exercise, rest, stress management techniques and regular check-ups. Ask loved ones to support you or, better yet, to join you in making lifestyle changes.
  • Keep an up-to-date medication list in your wallet.
  • Set up a record-keeping system to organize your health information.
  • Eliminate as many sources of stress as possible. Set priorities, simplify tasks and learn to settle for less than perfection.
  • Keep as active as possible. Just don’t overdo it. If you’re concerned about particular activities, consult with your doctor.
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Read the comics, watch a TV sitcom now and then or watch funny movies.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Revive a former pastime or try something new.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. ISI

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior health matters.


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