Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in America. More than a quarter of all deaths are attributed to heart problems, and the risk of death from heart disease begins to increase during middle age. Some common heart conditions include congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke. Although each one affects the heart, the symptoms and effects are very different:

Congestive Heart Failure

This occurs when the heart swells. The surrounding area fills with fluid, and the patient may experience fluid retention in other body parts as well. Congestive heart failure can take a long time, and patients may feel as though they are drowning due to the fluid in the chest cavity. This issue is most common in elderly people, but people in middle age can sometimes develop it as well.

Heart Attack

Heart attacks are sudden disruptions in the rhythm of a person’s heartbeat. They usually occur when one or more valves in the heart are blocked by plaque in the bloodstream. A heart attack can weaken the heart, which leaves it vulnerable to future heart attacks. Some people experience sudden death after a massive heart attack, but others have multiple heart attacks and corrective surgeries to treat the issue.

Stroke

A stroke happens suddenly when a blood clot cuts off circulation to the brain. This happens most frequently in people with high blood pressure. It’s a leading cause of adult disability as stroke survivors often lose certain motor functions due to brain damage. People with a high likelihood of stroke are often put on blood thinners to reduce the possibility of clotting.

There are other potential problems that can arise in a person’s heart, but these three common diseases account for the majority of heart-related deaths in America. Although numerous factors including genetics influence the risk of heart disease, there are many things that people can do to reduce their risk of premature death from heart problems. Below are some heart-healthy habits that can improve your life:

Eat a Proper Diet

The single most important thing you can do to prevent heart disease is to promote healthy eating habits in your daily life. A heart-healthy diet includes a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated fats, such as those found in animal protein, and try to reduce your sodium intake. The easiest way to eat a heart-healthy diet is to avoid processed foods in favor of homemade dishes. People at risk of heart disease may also find that a vegetarian or vegan diet is extremely beneficial. For example, Bill Clinton recently began eating a vegan diet as part of a heart health regime. These lean diets, with their focus on vegetable protein, are a great source of fiber and good fats.

Exercise Regularly

Being overweight puts a tremendous strain on your heart, which can lead to heart disease. Even people who are a healthy weight can benefit from exercise, however, and thin people can still be at risk for heart disease if they are in poor athletic shape. Aerobic exercise causes your heart to pump harder, which strengthens the heart muscle and improves your overall health. When combined with a healthy diet, exercise will help keep you at a proper weight and reduce your chances of developing heart disease and other weight-related conditions.

Maintain Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to a stroke, which results in neurological damage or death. In addition, people with high blood pressure are at risk of developing several other medical conditions, and it may be a sign of underlying medical conditions. It’s important to check your blood pressure regularly and consult a doctor about any high readings. Blood pressure can be lowered through a healthy diet, but some people have high blood pressure regardless of their dietary habits. In this case, medication can help reduce your blood pressure to a more maintainable level.

Stop Smoking

If you’re a smoker, you’re putting yourself at great risk of developing both heart and lung disease. Cigarette smoke can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn puts a strain on your heart. Fortunately, you can reverse some of the damage done to your heart by quitting smoking. The younger you are when you quit, the more time your body will have to recover. If you don’t smoke, don’t pick up the habit.

Communicate With Your Doctor

Frequent check-ups and open communication can help catch potential heart problems before they become serious. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you experience, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Many people experience their first heart attacks without realizing it, and one attack paves the way for future problems. By catching heart problems early, you can take active steps toward extending your life.

Heart disease isn’t always preventable, but following these guidelines can improve your chances of a long and healthy life. Maintaining good overall health is the first and most important step to preventing heart disease. It also protects you from other health conditions such as diabetes and even cancer. Reducing your risk of medical problems later in life is especially important for young people as it’s easier to prevent problems than reverse them. Protecting yourself from heart disease will improve your chances of living a long, healthy life.