CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The number of middle-aged Americans dying from heart disease is on the rise, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Corpus Christi ranks number 3 for the highest death rate increase from cardiovascular disease for ages 45-64 in major metro areas.
“I was surprised; I thought we have made strides locally to diminish our cardiovascular death rates, but, unfortunately, I was proved wrong when I read the article,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Alexander.
We know, that in the United States, close to 50 percent of Americans have at least one major risk factor for heart disease.
“Compared to the national average, the middle-aged people in Corpus Christi are less likely to be on statin medications for cholesterol, more likely to be obese, more likely to be sedentary, more likely to smoke, and have a higher sodium intake then the rest of the nation,” said Alexander.
The death rate from the chronic, debilitating condition rose 20.7 percent between 2011 and 2017 and is likely to keep climbing.
“So we have some local issues that need to be tackled with, prevention and, once you have it, with aggressive treatment,” said Alexander.
An increase in body mass index, for example, can lead to diabetes and then high blood pressure-related heart disease or heart failure.
“I think we need to be more aggressive locally. We need to start with prevention, obviously starting in the middle schools and elementary schools, teaching healthy living, avoiding heavy weight, that is very important, and avoiding salt intake,” said Alexander.
Another factor is that many middle-aged people simply ignore symptoms.
“You are exactly right, you know over the last 25 years, I have lost patients to heart disease, some of them were unexpected. The symptoms may be an upset stomach. It is very difficult to predict, but we do know that if you are high-risk for heart disease, you have to be very careful of ignoring symptoms,” said Alexander.
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others.
Risk factors for developing heart disease include:
Age. Aging increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle.
Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, women's risk increases after menopause.
Family history. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
Smoking. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer. Some chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapies may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Poor diet. A diet that's high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.
Diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors, as well.
Stress. Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
Poor hygiene. Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health also may contribute to heart disease.
Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can't be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making the same lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease, such as:
- Quit smoking
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
- Eat a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce and manage stress
- Practice good hybrid