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How to prioritize your heart health  

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According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. With the ongoing pandemic and continuing effects of COVID-19, it is even more important now to be proactive with your heart health and to show your heart some love.

How Do I Know If My Heart is Healthy?

The first step is an annual physical exam. Even if you do not suspect there is an issue, these exams use screenings and lab tests to ensure your heart is healthy. The exams help gauge your heart-health numbers, such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and serve as important preventive measures. If you are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, arm pain or a sudden change in your ability to exercise, you should schedule an appointment with your provider.

It is also important to evaluate the factors that drive heart disease. Glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index and weight are important factors that should be tracked on a regular basis. Finally, it’s important to examine your family history. There are several hereditary conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure that can increase your risk for heart disease. Utilizing resources like the American Heart Association can help you determine your heart-health numbers and find out if you’re at greater risk for heart disease. 

What Can I Do to Improve My Heart Health?

There are several preventative measures for keeping your heart healthy. Following a healthy diet – such as avoiding foods with high saturated fat, large amounts of sodium or high amounts of sugar – can help maintain a healthy heart. It is also important to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and incorporate activity on a daily basis. Even if you can get a little exercise each day, such as a walk outside or an at-home workout, it will help keep your heart in shape. Finally, I recommend avoiding smoking, and if you are an active smoker, consider quitting. According to the CDC, smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and causes one of every four CVD deaths. If you are looking to quit smoking, the Indiana Tobacco Quitline is a great resource to learn about the importance of quitting and to discover helpful tips in starting the quitting process.

How Do Heart Disease Symptoms Vary Between Men and Women?

Many people wonder whether your gender affects your chances of heart disease. While both men and women can experience chest pain, the degree of the pain and the likelihood of other symptoms may vary. Women may experience symptoms that are more subtle or not chest-related, such as jaw pain and indigestion, and should pay particular attention to any unusual symptoms and get them checked out.  

In addition, we also know that people of color are at a greater risk for heart disease. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, in 2018, African Americans were 30% percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. Your health care provider is the best resource to discuss your unique health picture and make recommendations.

How Are Heart Health and COVID-19 Related?

The pandemic has undoubtedly increased our focus on our overall health and well-being. With the increase of people working from home and living a more sedentary lifestyle, people are less likely to go to the gym and maintain a robust exercise routine. Additionally, mental health can play a large role in your physical health. A report from the CDC shows that mental health is associated with risk factors for heart disease even before the diagnosis of a mental health disorder. It is especially important to focus on fostering positive mental health during the continued era of COVID-19, and if you do have comorbidities such as diabetes, lung disease or heart disease, you are at a higher risk for COVID-19 infections and are more likely to be hospitalized.

How Can CareSource Help?

CareSource is passionate about helping our community and connecting them with specialists. Our care managers are eager to help coordinate care by providing annual exams, screening labs, electrocardiogram (EKG) or stress tests, and even connecting patients with nutritionists. CareSource also has a disease management program where we provide literature to educate and empower patients dealing with heart disease. Additionally, CareSource has a robust tobacco cessation program for patients to receive counseling and cessation products. To explore your options and start prioritizing your heart health, visit www.caresource.com.

Dr. Cameual Wright is CareSource vice president and market chief medical officer.

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