You have a good heart. You spend your days working hard and often return home to devote yourself to your loved ones and hobbies. You do everything you can to stay healthy and live your life to the fullest. But what if all of this suddenly ended?
Heart disease accounts for 1 in 3 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This makes heart disease the first leading cause of death in the United States, and strokes, another cardiovascular disease, the fifth leading cause of death.
It is crucial to act quickly when stroke symptoms appear.
Stroke symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the part of the brain that is affected, says Rashedul Hasan, MD, a vascular neurologist and medical director of stroke on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano. But in general, one can follow the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association acronym “BEFAST” to identify the most common symptoms.
“B is for ‘balance problem’, meaning a sudden loss of balance or coordination. E is for “eye problem,” which means a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes. F is for “sag face”, which means an uneven face. A is for “arm drop,” meaning one arm goes down. S is for “speech difficulty,” meaning trouble speaking or slurred speech. T stands for “time to call 911,” says Dr. Hassan.
Elizabeth Fagan, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney, recommends looking in the mirror if you’re alone, because sagging isn’t always noticeable.
It is also important to act quickly in the event of a heart attack.
“Symptoms include: chest discomfort that may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; Lack of air; and other signs, including cold sweats, nausea, or dizziness,” explains Dr. Fagan.
Dr. Fagan says acting quickly can provide time for life-saving treatment.
“Paramedics can begin the necessary treatment at home and continue it during transport to the hospital. Additionally, EMS systems can activate the cardiac catheter lab to be ready to treat a heart attack, or emergency and radiology departments can clear CT scans for stroke patients. Both actions allow us to restore blood flow to patients’ hearts/brains more quickly and improve outcomes,” says Dr. Fagan.
Know your risk
Stroke risks can be divided into two categories, variable (which
modifiable) and nonmodifiable (which cannot be changed), according to Dr. Hassan.
“Common modifiable risk factors are hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (A-fib), smoking, illicit drug use, sedentary lifestyle, heavy alcohol intake, diet, sleep apnea, and kidney disease,” says Dr. Hassan. “Invariable risk factors include male sex, older age, and genetic factors.”
90 percent of first strokes can be prevented by changing risk factors.
“The best way to understand your risk is to have an annual physical exam with your primary care provider, identify your risk factors, and treat them accordingly,” says Dr. Hassan.
Some risk factors for strokes and heart attacks overlap. According to Dr. Sibi Thomas, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Centennial, overlapping risk factors for heart disease include hypertension, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity.
Prevention of heart disease
“When it comes to heart disease, there are certain factors that cannot be changed such as age, ethnicity and family history,” says Dr. Thomas. “Therefore, factors that can be modified, controlled, or reduced with lifestyle changes should be the primary focus.”
“Some examples of lifestyle changes you can make are avoiding tobacco products, exercising at least 150 minutes a week and eating a healthy balanced diet made up of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat proteins such as lean meat, fish , poultry and eggs,” says Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas insists that if you have risk factors for heart disease, it’s important to have routine checkups with your primary care doctor and screenings with a local cardiologist.
Treatment of heart diseases
“The best approach is to recognize the symptoms and discuss your concerns with a health care provider early,” says Dr. Thomas.
When looking for where to seek medical care, you want the best team that wants the best for you.
So, keep living your life to the fullest, take care of your heart, and if you have any concerns, call Baylor Scott & White Health.
Physicians provide clinical services as members of the medical staff at any of Baylor Scott & White Health’s subsidiaries, community or affiliated medical centers and do not provide clinical services as employees or agents of Baylor Scott & White Health or those medical centers.