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According to the World Health Organization, the world’s leading killer is ischemic heart disease. It’s responsible for 16% of total deaths worldwide. Not only that, but heart disease deaths have been on the rise for nearly two decades. Since 2000, heart disease deaths have increased from 2 million to 8.9 million. 

While there are many unpreventable risk factors linked to heart disease – like genetics and age – there are myriad ways we can prevent heart disease and promote healthy, long lives. 

What is heart disease? 

The term “heart disease” is really a catch-all phrase relating to many cardiovascular diseases affecting the heart. It includes everything from the most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease, to heart valve disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, and more. 

When cardiologists, nutritionists, and the American Heart Association talk about heart disease prevention and heart health, they are most likely referring to one of these three time-specific occurrences of cardiac disease prevention – secondary, primary, and primordial. 

  • Primordial: Those with a family history of heart disease may start preventative measures from youth, taking extra care to monitor diet, maintain healthy exercise habits, and establish a relationship with a cardiologist. 
  • Primary: Individuals with a greater risk of stroke, heart attack, high cholesterol, and/or high blood pressure take more aggressive measures at limiting their chances of developing another, more urgent cardiovascular disease. 
  • Secondary: After an individual has succumbed to a heart disease related illness or had surgery related to cardiac conditions, they will conduct secondary prevention measures like taking medication. 

What are the common symptoms? 

Heart disease symptoms vary depending on what type of heart disease you have. Common signs and symptoms of the following heart diseases are listed below. 

  • Blood vessel heart-disease symptoms: 
    • Angina – chest pain, tightness, discomfort in the chest when exerting energy
    • Shortness of breath, feeling like you can’t catch your breath after minor exertion
    • Pain in neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, and/or jaw
    • Numbness, weakness, cold in the arms, legs, hands, and/or feet
  • Arrhythmia symptoms: 
    • Racing heartbeat
    • Slow heartbeat
    • Fluttering heartbeats you can feel in your chest
    • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Congenital heart defects typically found at or just after birth:
    • Gray or blue skin
    • Shortness of breath when feeding
    • Trouble gaining weight
    • Swollen legs, abdomen 
  • Cardiomyopathy (diseased heart muscle):
    • Irregular heartbeats that may feel heavy, pounding, fluttering, or rapid
    • Shortness of breath when at rest or exercising lightly
    • Swelling of the feet, ankles, legs 
    • Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting
  • Endocarditis (heart valve infection): 
    • Fatigue
    • Swelling in legs or abdomen
    • dry/persistent cough
    • Unexplainable skin rash
    • Weakness

Strategies to prevent heart disease 

The following preventative measures can relate to any of the three time-related instances of heart disease. For those who want to foster good heart health early on, those with established risk factors, and those who have already had a related cardiac condition can benefit from the following preventative measures. 

Don’t Smoke or Quit if You Do 

This includes but is not limited to cigarette smoking, cigar smoking, vaping, and dipping. It’s not a secret that tobacco products are filled with carcinogens and other chemicals that actively damage your blood vessels and heart muscle. Plus, cigarette smoking decreased the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, forcing your vessels and heart to work harder in pumping blood around your body. A lifetime of this is sure to have a negative impact on your heart. 

Our physicians are also College of Medicine faculty and can help patients get back on track with healthier lifestyle choices. UCF Health offers echos and nuclear stress tests right in our clinic. Establishing a healthy foundation in both mind and body can help minimize certain risk factors that may lead to heart disease down the line. 

Disciplined Exercise

Gone are the days of a recommended “30 minutes of moderate exercise a couple times a week”. As Americans, our lifestyles are growing increasingly sedentary – even more so now with so many of us working remotely. We may feel that we don’t have time for exercise. 

However, it’s one of the most important things you can do to prevent heart disease. Exercise has a whole host of benefits outside of maintaining a healthy weight. It strengthens all of our muscles, including the heart, allows fresh, oxygenated blood to reach all parts of our body. To get the heart-healthy benefits of exercise and prevent heart disease, the body needs at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity each day. In short, healthy individuals concerned with primordial prevention need to break a sweat and start breathing heavily to gain the heart-related benefits of exercise. A fast walk, slow jog, core workout, and even squats will do this but remaining disciplined to tackle something each day is up to you. 

Maintaining a Healthy Weight 

This looks different for everyone. Depending on genetic factors, food intolerances, and lifestyle factors, your ‘healthy weight’ is certainly different from the person next to you. Consult with a nutritionist or your primary care doctor to determine what an appropriate body mass index is for your frame. Knowing this number can help you reach or maintain a healthy body fat to muscle ratio that keeps your heart healthy. 


Our body’s rely so heavily on what we put into them. The quality of our energy, moods, skin, and mental health can all be linked to what type of nutrients we are ingesting each and every day. Choosing heart-healthy, less-processed foods over sugary, refined carbs, candy, and chemically-laden packaged meals is the way to go when seeking to prevent cardiac conditions. This doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire paycheck in the organic food aisle. Instead, opt to prepare the majority of your meals at home with whole ingredients, like whole grains, lean meats (fish, turkey), and seasonal produce. 


A solid 8 hours of sleep each night does so much more than help us feel awake and motivated when the sun rises. A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and more. Sleep resets our system, aids in a healthy appetite, gives us energy to get moving, and more. 

Commit to turning off blue-light devices at least an hour before bed for a restful slumber. Ensure the temperature in your room is cool, not hot. Wear an eye mask or use a noise machine for an increased slumber. 

Managing and Minimizing Stress 

Prior to modernization, the stress that humans experienced was very acute – where to sleep, what to eat, the need to take care of a crying infant, protecting oneself and family from attack, you get the idea. As our lives have become generally safer and more stable, these stresses are replaced by other, more generalized stress. 

Financial worries, health trouble, marital issues, and family strife plague the modern human and cause huge amounts of stress, worry, and anxiety in many people’s daily lives. Seeking help in dealing with stress is not only beneficial for your mental state but for your physical state as well. Therapy sessions, exercise, and sleep help minimize stress’s negative effects and give an individual the tools, energy, and determination to deal with stressful situations head-on, instead of letting them build overtime. 

Health Screenings 

For those looking at primary or secondary prevention, routine health screenings are a must. Establish a good relationship with a primary care doctor and seek a referral to a top cardiologist. Overtime, your doctors can track the progression of certain risk factors, like high blood pressure and cholesterol, helping you manage or even minimize them. Creating a history and track record with an experienced Orlando cardiologist will aid in dealing with future heart-related problems, should they occur. Health screenings alert doctors to any issues and are crucial in preventing further, life-threatening developments like a heart attack or stroke. 

Who is most commonly affected by heart disease? 

Heart disease affects a wide variety of people and can be caused by a diverse array of inherited conditions and lifestyle factors. However, the following risk factors contribute to a likelihood of developing a cardiovascular condition.  

  • People with hypertension.
  • People with high blood pressure. Added wear and tear on the blood vessels may contribute to heart disease. 
  • People with diabetes. 
  • Older people. Individuals over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing heart disease. 
  • People with a family history of heart-related conditions
  • People with gum disease. Researchers are still uncovering direct links but bacteria that causes gum disease has been shown to break loose and clog arteries, contributing to various heart-related conditions. 
  • Males are affected at a greater proportion than women.

Appointments and Next Steps 

Even though heart disease is a huge health issue affecting the world’s population, there are ways to mitigate your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Depending on which heart disease you have or how far along it is in progressing, treatment options may vary. Some can incorporate an aspirin or blood-thinner regimen into their daily routine and have no issues for the rest of their life. Others with severe blockage require surgery. The vast and varied nature of heart disease makes it all the more crucial to develop a relationship with a cardiologist and begin routine health screenings while you are healthy. 
UCF Health offers patients access to an array of resources, including its patient portal that is packed with health-tips, COVID-19 updates for patients, and online scheduling options. Those seeking an Orlando Cardiologist can do no better than partnering with one in our UCF Health network.