According to the American Heart Association, in 2015, almost 13,000 Louisiana residents died of heart disease or stroke. Having high blood pressure puts you at high risk for cardiovascular disease, and managing high blood pressure is a lifelong commitment.
More than 29 Louisianans die from heart disease every day, making it the state’s number one killer. Louisiana also ranks fourth in the nation for stroke death rates.
Heart disease is usually caused when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. The build-up narrows the arteries, making it hard for blood to flow through. Sometimes, blood clots form, completely stopping blood flow. This can cause a stroke.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases your heart’s workload by quietly damaging your blood vessels and arteries over time. It is the leading cause of stroke.
One in every three adults has high blood pressure, and only about half of them have their blood pressure controlled which could lead to costly health complications, including heart attack and stroke. Many are unaware of their hypertension, as it frequently causes no symptoms, even when extremely elevated.
Blood pressure screening and treatment reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. This, in turn, has a positive impact on reducing the overall cost of healthcare.
On average, a heart attack costs $94,500 in the first year of treatment and $74,000 every year after. Strokes are even more expensive; $122,000 in the first year and $75,000 every year after.
In Louisiana, Medicaid expansion has made it possible for thousands to see doctors resulting in early diagnoses and treatment that has saved lives. And as shown above, there is a corresponding savings to the health care system when the focus changes from treatment to prevention.
Reduce Your Risk
There are a number of ways that you can stay healthy and lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke or suffering from heart disease.
At the top of the list is eating a healthy diet, but eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing the foods and flavors you love. You can modify your diet in a way that will have your heart pumping for joy by:
- Eating more poultry, fish, nuts and beets and less red meat. When purchasing meat, choose a lean cut and limit portion size.
- Choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Picking fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed fruits and vegetables, which contain added salt and sugar.
- Selecting breads, pasta and other carbohydrate-rich foods that are made from whole grains.
- Switching from butter to olive, canola, soybean, peanut, corn or safflower oils for cooking.
- Choosing low-sodium foods whenever possible. Using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt.
- Cutting back on foods and beverages with added sugars. For example, eat fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Modifying your favorite recipes so that they contain less fat and calories.
Maintaining a healthy weight can also lower your risk for heart disease. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person’s excess body fat.
If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Assessing Your Weight website.
Exercising regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
For more information, see the CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program website.
Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
Limit alcohol use. Drinking too much can cause high blood pressure. It can also add calories and cause weight gain.
Reduce stress and get plenty of sleep: Both of these are important to reduce your risk for obesity and high blood pressure. If you are stressed and not sleeping adequately, you tend to drink, eat and stress more! Exercise, take time to decompress before you go to bed by reading or listening to music, no television when trying to sleep, and let your doctor know if you are unable to accomplish your goals.
Seeing your primary care physician regularly is also an important step in protecting yourself from heart disease. Many other diseases, such as Diabetes, can also contribute to heart disease development. High blood sugar can lead to damage to your blood vessels and nerves to your heart leading to a risk of stroke and heart attack. Seeing your doctor for all regular screenings, such as cholesterol and blood sugar, will help lower your risk of damage to your heart and other vital organs.
For more information on the prevention and management of heart disease and stroke, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana’s resources page to increase awareness of hypertension among patients and implement quality improvement processes.