Heart Disease 101 – Part 2

paper heart beat

What do you know about heart disease, the number one cause of death in the US? Read part 1 here, to get the basics, and a little of what it feels like to have heart disease. Here’s more on what you can do to optimize your health.

Tests and Diagnosis 

Besides blood tests to check your cholesterol levels and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease can include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). An ECG is a quick and painless test that records the electrical signals in your heart. It can spot abnormal heart rhythms. You may have an ECG while you’re at rest or while exercising (stress electrocardiogram).
  • Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor is a portable ECG device you wear to continuously record your heart rhythm, usually for 24 to 72 hours. Holter monitoring is used to detect heart rhythm problems that aren’t found during a regular ECG exam.
  • Echocardiogram. This noninvasive exam uses sound waves (ultrasound) to produce detailed images of your heart’s structure. It shows how your heart beats and pumps blood.
  • Stress test. This type of test involves raising your heart rate with exercise or medicine while performing heart tests and imaging to check how your heart responds.


There are behaviors that can keep your heart heathy and strong:

  • Not smoking
  • Minimizing use of alcohol 
  • Weight control and exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet – watch the saturated fat, salt, and sugars
  • Managing stress
  • Getting quality sleep


You’ve heard me mention the healthy habits above before, but what about sleep? What does that have to do with heart health? 

The evidence has been mounting that poor sleep, including sleep deprivation and fragmented sleep, can negatively impact the health of our hearts. There is a lot of essential work going on in our bodies when we sleep. 

In order to repair and refresh our systems we need a certain amount of the right kinds of sleep on a regular basis. During times of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. This gives your heart a nice break from all the work it does during the day. If sleep time is fitful or too short, NREM is not achieved long enough for the heart to rest.

So, chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to health and heart problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes. The lowered night blood pressure is protective; with good sleep blood pressure drops by around 10 to 20 percent. 

Sleep Apnea 

This is another sleep related heart risk. When your airway gets blocked repeatedly for a few seconds while you sleep, over time the lack of oxygen can cause many health problems including heart damage. Sleep apnea can be successfully treated with a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. It’s called a CPAP (SEE-pap), machine and it is worn on the face at night to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.

So, here’s my heartfelt message to you, take care of your heart. Your family and friends will love you for it.