Manage Your Health, Start With Your Heart
By: Kristin Shives
TRICARE Management Activity
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, causing nearly 25 percent of all deaths in 2008. February is American Heart month, and it can be a reminder for TRICARE beneficiaries to improve their heart-healthy habits to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. CAD is caused when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaque is made of cholesterol deposits that can accumulate in the arteries causing them to narrow. The most common symptom of CAD is chest pain or chest discomfort. This pain is caused by the lack of oxygen-rich blood getting to the heart muscle through the narrowed arteries. For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack – plaque has completely blocked off an artery that carries blood to the heart.
People often assume heart attacks are sudden and intense, but many start out with mild pain or discomfort. It’s important to know the symptoms and signs of a heart attack and vital to call 9-1-1 immediately if someone is having a heart attack. Chances of survival are increased if emergency treatment is provided as soon as possible. The CDC lists five major symptoms of a heart attack:
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
- Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
The National Institutes of Health recommend six key steps to reduce the risk of heart attack; quit smoking, lower blood pressure, cut high cholesterol, manage diabetes, aim for a healthy weight and be physically active every day. The CDC also recommends eating a healthy diet and limiting alcohol use.
TRICARE covers clinical preventive screenings for beneficiaries concerned with their cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Quitting smoking can be a challenge, but TRICARE provides the necessary assistance to be successful. Beneficiaries can find tools to quit smoking, educational materials, online training courses and chat one-on-one with smoking cessation coaches at www.ucanquit2.org.
Eating healthy is a good way to improve heart health. Meal planning should begin with portion control, limiting salt, cutting back on alcohol and decreasing foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Beneficiaries can talk with their primary care manager about exercise programs and nutrition plans to ensure success towards adopting a healthier lifestyle. More information on healthy living can be found at www.tricare.mil/livewell.
Prevention is the first step towards a healthy lifestyle. Early discovery and treatment of heart disease can lead to better health. To learn how to take advantage of TRICARE’s covered preventive health services, go to www.tricare.mil/preventiveservices.