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As the leading cause of death in the United States, it is important to take steps to keep your heart healthy and prevent a heart attack. Eating healthy, exercising and visiting a cardiologist regularly to monitor your heart’s health are a few simple ways that you can keep your heart health in check. 

If you experience symptoms of heart disease or have certain risk factors, you should seek care from your primary care physician or cardiologist promptly to figure out what may be going on. This article will share an overview of heart disease and heart attacks along with some prevention tips.

How to Prevent a Heart Attack

Preventing a heart attack goes beyond just visiting your doctor frequently. You have to take steps in your life to prevent heart disease and heart attack. Small habits that you form every day can make all the difference in keeping your heart healthy. 

Below, we’ve listed some steps you can take to prevent a heart attack. 

Healthy Diet 

Consuming a diet of heart-healthy foods is incredibly important in maintaining heart health and preventing heart disease. The Mediterranean diet is a commonly recommended diet for heart health and consists of eating a diet mainly composed of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

You should also refrain from eating excessive amounts of high-fat meats (such as ground beef) and processed foods. Some examples of heart-healthy foods include:

  • Legumes
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables

Healthy Lifestyle 

Living a healthy lifestyle that involves staying active and avoiding unhealthy habits (like drinking and smoking) is an effective way to ensure heart health. Healthy lifestyle habits include:

  • Avoiding smoking, vaping and excessive drinking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Keeping chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure under control
  • Managing stress well 

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Obesity is commonly associated with heart disease and also happens to be a prevalent issue in the United States. Being overweight has been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease. 

Making lifestyle changes such as implementing daily exercise and eating a healthy diet should naturally lead to weight loss. However, if you’re having a hard time losing weight or keeping it off, you may need to try working with a personal trainer or trying a weight loss or diet program to stay motivated. 

Know Your Limits and Numbers

Oftentimes, heart disease develops secondary to other heart-related conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. For this reason, it is important to keep track of certain blood levels and work closely with your doctor to continuously monitor your health. Other health markers that can influence cardiovascular health include:


Triglycerides are measured through a blood test called a lipid panel. Triglyceride levels reflect the number of certain fats such as cholesterol that exist in the blood. Higher triglyceride levels are typically associated with an increased risk of heart disease since some triglycerides can build up in the arteries and cause blockages. 

Blood pressure 

Keeping blood pressure within a normal range can help to prevent heart disease. When the blood pressure is chronically high, the heart has to work a lot harder to pump blood throughout the body. This can lead to secondary heart issues such as heart failure. A normal blood pressure is anything below 120/80 mmHg. 

Blood sugar

Because there is a connection between diabetes and heart disease, it is important to manage blood sugar levels and keep diabetes controlled. Lifestyle factors like being inactive or eating an unhealthy diet can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by genetic factors. Regardless of the type of diabetes, it is important to manage diabetes well to help prevent heart disease from developing.

An Overview of Heart Disease

Although we are typically unaware of the hard work that our heart is constantly doing to keep us alive, it is undeniably evident when the heart ceases to work properly. There are several different types of heart disease that range in severity and come with their own unique causes and treatments. 

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, affecting 20.1 million adults over the age of 20. Many symptoms of heart disease tend to be generic but they can vary based on the type and severity of disease. 

Types of Heart Disease

Because the heart is a complex organ, there are many different ways it can be affected by disease. For example, some heart diseases are present at birth, while others develop over time. Different anatomical locations of the heart can be affected by disease as well, including the heart valves, muscular lining, and blood vessels. 

Common types of heart disease include coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmias, heart valve disease, heart failure, congenital heart defects, pericarditis and heart muscle disease. 

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common heart problem. This type of heart condition occurs when there are blockages in the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood. When these vessels become blocked, there is a decreased flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.

CAD usually starts as atherosclerosis, which is a thickening or hardening of the arteries that is also associated with plaque buildup on the arteries. As the blood vessels throughout the body become blocked and damaged, eventually, the major arteries of the heart become affected too. 

Some risk factors that make you more likely to develop CAD include:

  • Advanced age
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Having diabetes
  • Family history of coronary artery disease
  • Genetics
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Poorly managed stress

Heart arrhythmias

The heart is a giant muscle that has its own electrical conduction system. Sometimes, this system functions incorrectly, leading to a heart arrhythmia or abnormal heartbeat. Some heart arrhythmias are harmless while others can be more serious. It is important to be aware of an arrhythmia if you have one so that you can take certain steps to prevent it from worsening. 

Common symptoms of heart arrhythmias include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Pounding in your chest
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Fainting spells
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Chest pain

Heart valve disease

The heart has four valves that help to ensure proper blood flow. Heart valves snap shut when the heart beats to ensure that the blood continues to flow in the proper direction without flowing backward due to the pressure of the heart beating. When there is an abnormality with the heart valves, the blood can leak out into the wrong area of the heart or it can be blocked. 

Heart valve issues can be caused by rheumatic fever, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or as the after-effect of a heart attack. Two common heart valve diseases are endocarditis and rheumatic heart disease. 

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart doesn’t pump blood properly. This can result from a variety of other conditions such as coronary artery disease, thyroid disease, high blood pressure and heart muscle disease. In heart failure, the heart muscle is either weakened or stiffened, making the pumping less effective. 

Congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects occur when the heart does not develop properly at birth. A congenital heart defect can occur in the womb or immediately after birth. There are certain heart structures that are supposed to change at birth and sometimes this process does not happen properly. 

This can lead to ongoing heart issues that can sometimes develop into other conditions. Some of the most common congenital heart defects are septal abnormalities which occur when the walls that separate the left and right sides of the heart have holes in them, causing blood to flow improperly. 


The heart is surrounded by a protective sac called the pericardium. When the pericardium becomes inflamed, it can cause symptoms. Pericarditis may be caused by a virus or inflammatory diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Heart muscle disease

Heart muscle disease or cardiomyopathy occurs when the muscles of the heart become stretched, thickened and stiff. This can cause the heart to become weak and not pump well. Cardiomyopathy can occur as the result of genetic heart conditions, reactions to certain drugs or a virus. 


Causes of heart conditions vary depending on the disease itself. Generally, heart disease is often caused by:

  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Being inactive 
  • Having high blood pressure
  • High cholesterol


Common symptoms of heart disease include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

Risk Factors

Some risk factors that might make you more likely to develop heart disease include:

  • Having high blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Being inactive
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a family history of heart disease
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Having a chronic disease such as diabetes


With heart disease affecting so many people in the world, it has never been more important to take steps to keep your heart healthy. There are many different diseases that can affect the heart, some are preventable and some are not. Either way, it is still important to implement healthy routines into your daily habits to keep your heart and your body as a whole healthy. 

The cardiologists at UCF Health will work with you to monitor your health and modify your lifestyle factors to help keep your heart healthy. Schedule your visit today.