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4 Things You Must Know About the Silent Killer

By cardiologist Robertas Pranevičius

It’s heartbreaking to witness the anguish in my patients’ eyes when I have to tell them they have heart disease. I’ve seen this expression far too many times over the years.

Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the adverse effects that heart conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol bring — until it is too late.

That’s why cardiologists call high blood pressure “the silent killer.”

Let’s see what you can do to chase it away.

You might be in danger right now

One in three American adults struggles with high blood pressure. Ignoring this early symptom of heart disease can lead to terrible consequences such as heart attack, stroke, or even death. And most people do ignore it.

High blood pressure or high blood cholesterol doesn’t feel like anything serious for the majority of people. Sure, you might feel dizzy, tired, or get an occasional headache. But nothing feels alarming enough to visit a doctor.

However, remember that 80% of deaths from premature heart disease can be prevented if the symptoms are detected early. Yet every 40 seconds, someone’s parent, grandparent, or neighbor has a stroke. And in the worst-case scenario, we have to tell the patient’s family that their loved one died from something entirely preventable.

Keep in mind that most of us notice heart trouble only when it’s dangerously close. You might suddenly have shortness of breath, heart palpitations, high heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pains or discomfort after physical activity. These sensations can spread to the neck, jaw, upper back, or shoulders. If you notice any of these symptoms, get in touch with your doctor right away.

How to win your heart back

The silent killer we are after is sneaky. You will need to make some behavioral changes to fight it. Protecting your heart is all about staying vigilant and following simple guidelines.

So, how can you stop the silent killer?

1. The silent killer attacks if you are alone

In every horror movie there is always a character who goes to investigate a suspicious noise alone. It always feels like what happens next could be prevented.

You already know how to deal with a killer in the movies. The same rules apply to the silent killer of the heart.

When we are in danger, safety is guaranteed in numbers.

I could talk all I want about the importance of a good diet or exercise. But I know that you would actually do it if a family member or a friend would invite you to cook a healthy meal together or take a walk in the nearby park.

Community keeps us inspired and grounded. Other people notice if our behavior changes way faster than we do. Having a friend or family member who knows your health issues will help you to stay consistent.

After all, they spend time with you way more than your doctor and can help you make the necessary behavior corrections.

Managing cardiovascular conditions takes time, and the results are not always instant. Having someone in your corner to encourage you and keep you accountable is one of the most crucial steps.

2. The silent killer leaves clues

Monitoring the early signs of heart disease is the number one key to cardiovascular disease treatment. Start looking out for them after you celebrate your 40th birthday.

If you suspect you might have heart issues, the first step is to start using a blood pressure monitor and visit your family doctor for evaluation.

Remember that one measurement with a blood pressure monitor doesn’t mean much. It’s essential to stay consistent and take your readings daily. A blood pressure reading that shows less than 120/80mmHg shows you are in the healthy range.

If you notice any unusual measurements or symptoms, you might need an electrocardiogram and further examination. It allows you to detect any irregular heartbeat and evaluate other problems that may be heart-related.

Then, take it further and get a blood test to define your cholesterol levels.

If you already have prescribed blood pressure medication, track if you take it on time. One of the critical issues with blood pressure medicine is that people forget to use it or use incorrect doses. Contact your doctor if you are not sure about your regimen.

3. The silent killer waits until you get weak

I know — eating balanced food is such basic advice. But don’t skip it, for your own sake.

Healthy food is the base that will help you build up your resilience against heart disease. It gives you energy, and the food you eat becomes a building block of your body.

Eating healthy food is about balance. You have to figure out the best foods that suit your body and mind. Keep in mind that you might not need to go on a restrictive diet. With the help of a healthy meal plan, you might reduce the usage of unhealthy foods or find alternatives that are as tasty as the original.

For most of us, the key is to focus on plant-based foods. Choose veggies, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, berries, or just about anything else that grows out of the land. Fresh, frozen, or canned produce is also fine. Not only do these foods keep you satiated, but they also provide you with vitamins and minerals necessary for your body to function.

Of course, you might eat some animal-based products, too. But it is not necessary to have bacon and eggs daily. Opt out for lean meats such as chicken, fish, and eggs. Avoid trans fats that you get from fast food or other highly processed meals.

The fastest way to achieve this balance is to follow the healthy plate method, developed by scientists from Harvard University.

It shows that half of your daily food plate should be dedicated to vegetables and fruits, ¼ should be covered in healthy protein sources, and ¼ can be full of whole grains or starches.

4. The silent killer will find you if you stand still

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of high blood pressure are unbalanced diets high in fat and salt and a lack of physical activity. Combining these lifestyle choices leads to obesity, a significant risk factor for heart disease.

We have already talked about food. So now it’s time to face another tool that will help you against cardiovascular disease.

Start with a slow daily walk — 30 minutes per day is enough. Then get moving a bit faster until you feel your heart rate rising.

Don’t get discouraged if the activity you picked at the beginning doesn’t feel right, and try another way to stay active. You are never too old or too out of shape to try out something new! From Nordic walking to badminton, from gardening to dancing — there are plenty of ways to stay in shape.

You could also challenge yourself further and make your life slightly “inconvenient.” Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car in the other corner of the parking lot. Even if you decide to get takeout for dinner, make sure you walk to the restaurant to pick it up instead of ordering it.

You don’t need to run a marathon to stay healthy. Start small with a quick daily walk. Build up the habit of getting your heart rate daily. It will get easier in just a few short weeks.

Conclusion

Most cardiovascular issues can be reversed or stabilized if caught early.

If you suspect you have heart issues or are already in treatment, you can always get better with the right tools.

  • Focus on prevention instead of damage control.
  • Build a tribe around you that will bring joy and keep you grounded.
  • Get your blood pressure and cholesterol tested, especially as you get older.
  • Track your health data regularly to catch issues early.
  • Be kind to your body: provide it with the right nutrients, exercise, and stop smoking.

Your story is just beginning — enjoy every day without ever worrying about your heart health.

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