Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Almost a million people died from it in 1994, about 42 percent of all deaths in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
There are several types of heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the most common type of cardiovascular disease. An increase in blood pressure makes the heart work harder than it should' A healthy pressure is generally below 140/90. Losing excess weight, cutting down on salt and alcohol and increasing physical activity can help lower high blood pressure. Certain medications can also help.
Coronary heart disease caused by atherosclerosis is the second most common form of cardiovascular disease. In this disorder, the coronary arteries become clogged with deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.
Steaks and Stress
Robert Switzer never thought heart disease would strike him, so young-or ever. He admits that he ate it least 10 thick Steaks a month and had up to three alcoholic drinks each day. Although he did not smoke, he had high blood pressure and a high cholesterol count. He owned a successful electronics company and worked, 12-hour days filled with stress.
"Although I did no exercise at all and ate the richest foods, I never knew I had a problem," Switzer said, "I thought I was bulletproof."
One night, Switzer was in bed when he suddenly felt a massive, crushing pain in his chest. He walked downstairs, then sat down struggling to breathe. His wife, Jeanie, called 911, and he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. He was 49 years old and having a heart attack.
When he got home from the hospital following treatment for the heart attack, Switzer immediately changed his diet. He now limits alcohol and eats red meat only about four times a year. He eats fruits and vegetables daily. He also, started exercising three times week.
But what Switzer failed to do was lower his I stress level. "I found that I could change my eating habits," but his second heart attack hit in 1992. This time, he needed bypass surgery and he knew that he would have to change his stressful lifestyle. He closed his California Company and moved with his wife to suburban Phoenix. He wondered how they would ever make it financially after losing 90 percent of his six-figure income.
Then, he joined Mended Hearts. He found that meeting monthly with others like himself was one of the most important things he did to heal and lean to accept his new life.
For, those: who have had heart surgery and for those diagnosed with serious heart conditions- Switzer says that nothing is more important for emotional healing than being with others who have felt what you are feeling. As simple as it seems, he urges heart patients to talk with others, especially those who are father along in the healing process.
Looking to the Future
Gregory L. Burke, M.D., of the American Heart Association, says most people know what to do to prevent heart disease, but don't think it applies to them. No matter when you start, adopting a healthier lifestyle will help, Burke says. Speak with your physician about dietary changes you should make, and ask about a exercise program that's right for you.
Switzer learned many lessons, which he now shares with others who are living with heart disease: Make healthy changes in your lifestyle, educate yourself, and get emotional support. Then you can go on to enjoy a healthy life.