fbpx The Importance of Blood Pressure: Heart Disease and The Silent Killer
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The Importance of Blood Pressure: Heart Disease and The Silent Killer

An exclusive interview about looking after your heart health with The Heart Foundation.
Helen Massy
Written by

Helen Massy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 877,500 Americans dying of heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular ailments every year.

Caring for your heart health is paramount to maintaining a vibrant and fulfilling life. As the center of our cardiovascular system, the heart plays a vital role in supplying oxygen and nutrients to every part of our body. We can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and related complications by looking after our heart health, including our blood pressure.

"Blood pressure is often nicknamed the silent killer because it is often completely unaccompanied by symptoms," said Hannah Drake Litman, a representative from The Heart Foundation, a charity located in Westlake Village, California. "So it can just get you out of nowhere. About 70 percent of people who have a first heart attack have high blood pressure."

In addition, 80 percent of people who have a first stroke also suffer from high blood pressure.

In an exclusive interview, Giddy spoke to Drake Litman about their work, including pinpointing the messages they want to share that'll help people look after their heart health.

What is The Heart Foundation, and what do you do?

Drake Litman: The Heart Foundation is a tiny but mighty nonprofit based in Southern California. We started as a grassroots nonprofit.

Tragically, a local man named Steve Cohen suffered a fatal heart attack when he was only 35 years old. He was playing basketball with a group of friends. He appeared to be the perfect example of what it is to be healthy and was married with two young daughters. Cohen died out of the blue, which shocked and devastated his family, friends and community.

In order to have his memory live on and to inspire others to be more focused on their heart health and spread awareness of heart disease to save more lives, The Heart Foundation was created; this was more than 27 years ago.

The Heart Foundation is dedicated to saving lives through public education about heart disease, advocating for early detection, and providing crucial support for research led by the esteemed cardiologist P.K. Shah, M.D. at Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (in Los Angeles). This relentless pursuit aims to discover innovative methods for preventing and treating the leading cause of death in the U.S.

By raising awareness, facilitating early intervention and advancing medical knowledge, The Heart Foundation strives to profoundly reduce the devastating impact of heart disease and improve the well-being of individuals nationwide.

Do you have resources that people can access?

We hold CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] certification courses, fundraisers and other events for the local community to raise money and awareness about heart health. But people worldwide need to be informed about what it is to be heart-healthy.

We have resources on our website and we focus on breaking down research and making it easy for everyone to understand. We want people to be able to take information in and apply it to their everyday lives. Much of this is done on our social pages on Instagram and TikTok.

Through our social platforms, we interview influential people who either are heart disease warriors themselves or feel very strongly about our mission and are passionate about living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

By doing that, these conversations provide a safe space for people to recognize they aren't alone in their heart health or heart disease journey. It's also an excellent place where people can ask questions, and get a little encouragement from us and the rest of our community on the path to becoming a more heart-healthy version of themselves. Heart disease is much more common than people realize.

What are the most common questions people ask about heart health?

Specifically, coronary artery disease and how to approach a more heart-healthy lifestyle are the two things we get asked the most about.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for women and men in the U.S. and worldwide. A lot of those diseases are preventable through fundamental lifestyle changes. People want to know how they can tailor their choices to serve their everyday lives and health. That being said, the most common form of heart disease in the U.S. is coronary artery disease, caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. It can narrow the arteries, preventing blood from getting to the heart.

The biggest risk factors for developing coronary artery disease are:

  • A diet high in saturated fat
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol, low LDL cholesterol and high triglyceride levels
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco use

So many people ask questions about coronary artery disease. What is it and is it preventable? What are the symptoms? What do I do if I feel like I'm in danger of that? We're always happy to answer these questions so that people get factual, clear and helpful information.

Second, people want to know how to apply heart-healthy changes to their everyday lives. Because if somebody says they're living heart-healthy, we have a very specific idea of what that means. And it seems pretty strict.

In reality, we can all make teeny tiny shifts to our everyday lives that benefit our heart health. It doesn't mean we have to live with this stringent set of rules. It just means we must find the things that work for us to move in a more heart-healthy direction.

What do you want people to know about heart health?

The No. 1 thing people need to understand is that heart disease is a non-discriminatory disease. There's a stigma surrounding heart disease that doesn't exist around many other conditions. When a person is diagnosed with a heart condition, people around them often question what they did to get in that position.

That's a very unfair way of thinking about it. In reality, yes, lifestyle choices play a part in our heart health. But there are many other factors to consider, such as other health conditions, your age and your family history, which can increase your risk for heart disease. We should all pay attention to our heart health because the statistics don't lie. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women and men. We're all vulnerable to it.

Another thing we really want people to understand and to be encouraged to do is to:

  • Ask questions
  • Be more proactive
  • Educate themselves
  • Go to the doctor
  • Take control of their own heart health

A lot of people are on either end of the spectrum. They either find it unimportant or are completely overwhelmed and intimidated by it. But it is so much easier to be proactive rather than reactive with your heart health.

We always say you're never too young and it's never too late to start living a more heart-healthy lifestyle.

What are your top tips for looking after heart health?

I have three pieces of advice for anyone starting to pay attention to their heart:

  1. Get a physical. The most helpful first step is to book a physical with your healthcare provider. And if you can communicate your family health history, that is an incredible jumping-off point for you. In that physical, you'll probably get a lipid panel test done [a panel of blood tests used to find abnormalities in lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides].

You can ask questions to better understand your specific health and what your health looks like at this moment in time. That gives you an amazing picture of what your future could look like.

  1. Understand the importance of blood pressure. People need to be aware of the importance of blood pressure. As I said earlier, blood pressure is nicknamed the silent killer as it is often unaccompanied by symptoms. You may not know you even have it but high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

About 47 percent of adult Americans are diagnosed with hypertension [high blood pressure]. And that's the only way you'll know if you have high blood pressure is to get it measured. Lifestyle changes are recommended first, but there are prescribed medications that make high blood pressure completely manageable.

  1. Make lifestyle changes. There are several changes you can make in your life that can actively play a positive role in being heart-healthy:
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Look after your mental health by managing your stress and anxiety levels.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle by exercising 150 minutes a week.
  • Monitor your blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
  • Monitor your sodium (salt) intake.
  • Quit using tobacco products.
  • Reduce alcohol intake and only use in moderation.

There's one more thing we see a lot of that can easily change.

Many people are embarrassed or ashamed of taking their medications. However, it's perfectly fine to take your prescribed medications. Do not be afraid of leaning on science. How wonderful is it that we live in a time when medicines can aid us in staying healthy?

If you are prescribed something, don't be ashamed of it. If you are worried about taking medications, then have a conversation with your healthcare provider. Heart medication is there to better your health and prevent future cardiac events. And that's a very good thing.