Since the heart is such an important organ, if it begins to weaken, you may have significant problems with your overall health – not just your heart health.

Heart disease isn’t one particular problem, but a group of diseases, according to Andrew P. DeFilippis, MD, a University of Louisville Physicians cardiologist with University Medical Associates.

Some common types of heart disease include

  • angina (chest pain caused by too little blood and oxygen)
  • arrhythmia (abnormal heart beat)
  • congestive heart failure (the heart doesn’t pump as effectively as it should and fluid backs up into the lungs) and
  • heart attack (blood supply is cut off from a part of the heart).

Treatment for heart disease depends entirely on the type of heart disease you have, DeFilippis said. It can range from lifestyle changes to taking medications or having surgery. It’s always better to focus on prevention before a problem develops. Lifestyle plays a huge role in keeping the heart healthy. We’ve all heard that we need to eat right, exercise and not smoke. But there are some common myths about prevention, too.

Doctors used to think that hormone therapy could lower your risk of heart problems. But taking estrogen with or without progestin does not prevent heart disease. In fact, if you are 10 or more years past menopause, hormone therapy may raise your risk for heart disease. Studies now show that Vitamin B, Vitamin E and folic acid supplements do not significantly lower the risk of heart disease or stroke. ULP cardiologists recommend that instead of taking supplements, you get these nutrients from a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Risk factors include tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse, obesity, diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol and processed food that contains refined sugars and trans fatty acids. Prevention and early detection are key. The earlier a heart problem is detected, the better the chance you can begin treatment before any long-term damage has occurred.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health from the “ULP Insider” newsletter. Read the entire February issue (opens as a PDF document).