Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, for men and women; about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s one in four deaths. Students in healthcare education can learn the risk factors of coronary heart disease (CHD) and communicate with their patients for better health outcomes.
February is American Heart Month, and the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) is focused on the impact that high blood cholesterol can have on the heart. Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high blood cholesterol.
Three Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in the blood. If a person has high blood cholesterol, he or she is at increased risk for CHD and heart attack. Cholesterol is present in the body in three types:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), sometimes referred to as “lousy” blood cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol to tissues, including heart arteries.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL), sometimes called the “good” blood cholesterol. HDL helps remove cholesterol from arteries, and a low HDL number increases risk of CHD.
- Triglycerides are a third type of blood fat, and some studies suggest a high level of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk for heart disease, especially in women.
Through role-play or simulation scenarios, students can counsel patients about blood cholesterol levels, and suggest patients get a lipid profile. The results will show levels of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Patients then can be treated for high blood cholesterol through medication, lifestyle changes, or, ideally, a combination of both.
Other Risk Factors
- A family history of heart disease clearly elevates a patient’s risk, as well as age and gender, with men over 45 and women over 55 at greatest risk for CHD.
- High blood pressure damages the heart and leads to plaque buildup. Any blood pressure above 120/80 mmHg indicates a risk for CHD and heart attack.
- Diabetes is when the blood sugar level in the body is too high. High blood sugar levels lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. Diabetes doubles the risk for CHD.
- Overweight and obesity are linked to other risk factors for CHD, such as high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Smoking does all sorts of damage to the heart. It triggers plaque buildup, increases the risk of blood clots, and raises blood pressure. Encourage patients to quit. The benefits of quitting smoking start right away, and no matter how long a patient has smoked.
- Poor eating and exercise habits compound the effects of all the risk factors listed here. Even modest gains in physical activities will improve heart health. Changing eating habits can be more difficult, but limiting foods high in saturated and trans fats is a good place to start. Healthcare professionals can help patients learn to replace those foods with vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and fruit.
- Stress and anxiety can raise blood pressure, leading to a greater risk of CHD. Stress can also lead to habits like overeating and smoking that in turn lead to a higher risk.
Diagnostic tests to evaluate blood glucose, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure will help students assess a patient’s risk for heart disease and heart attack. Teach students the anatomy of a healthy heart with three-dimensional models from Pocket Nurse®.