September 29 is World Heart Day, a day dedicated to spreading awareness about cardiovascular disease (CVD). Every year, CVD claims 18.6 million lives, according to data from the World Heart Federation (the organization responsible for founding the event).1 

A core mission of World Heart Day is to highlight actions individuals can take to both prevent and control their CVD. As a clinician, it’s important that you reinforce to your patients the common risks associated with heart disease and how to mitigate them. Be sure to remind them to:

1. Monitor their blood pressure


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High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to myriad problems including2:

  • Heart failure
  • Enlarged heart
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack

Therefore, it’s essential that your patients frequently monitor their blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes any blood pressure above 120/80 mmHG as high.3 

2. Take active steps to reduce their blood pressure

In addition to keeping a watchful eye, your patients can take concrete steps to reduce their blood pressure. For example2:

  • Keep a healthy weight (blood pressure generally increases with weight gain)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid foods high in salt
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Reduce caffeine intake

3. Strive to reduce their stress

Stress is a fact of life, but excess stress can have negative health consequences. In fact, researchers have found “overwhelming evidence” to suggest that stress causes harm to the heart and that stress management can enhance quality of life.

Remind your patients to do what they can to minimize stress. For example4:

  • Avoid triggers whenever possible
  • Manage expectations by prioritizing goals and activities
  • Carve out time for things they enjoy
  • Practice gratitude

4. Reduce their cholesterol

Cholesterol is necessary to build healthy blood cells, but too much of it can lead to heart problems. However, by implementing several lifestyle changes, your patients can reduce their cholesterol5:

  • Reduce saturated fats (those found in red meats and full-fat dairy products)
  • Eliminate trans-fats
  • Increase intake of soluble fiber (e.g., oatmeal, kidney beans, and apples)
  • Incorporate whey protein into their diet
  • Moderate alcohol consumption

5. Quit smoking

Although it’s much easier said than done, quitting smoking can offer an array of health benefits including reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2019 study in JAMA found that heavy smokers (those with a 20 pack-year history) reduce their risk for CVD by 39% within five years of quitting.6

The CDC offers several resources that you can share with your patients to help them along their journey, should they decide to quit.7

References

1. About World Heart Day. World Heart Federation. Accessed September 27, 2021.

2. High blood pressure dangers: hypertension’s effects on your body. Mayo Clinic. November 19, 2019. Accessed September 27, 2021.

3. High blood pressure symptoms and causes. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed May 18, 2021. Accessed September 27, 2021.

4. Dimsdale JE. Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633295/. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Apr 1; 51(13): 1237-1246. 10.1016/j.jacc.2007.12.024.

5. Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol. Mayo Clinic. August 28, 2020. Accessed September 27, 2021.

6. Duncan MS, Freiberg MS, Greevy RA, et al. Association of smoking cessation with subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2748507. JAMA. 2019;322(7):642-650. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.10298

7. Tips from former smokers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed July 28, 2021. Accessed September 27, 2021.