Living With Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

Living with cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be challenging. But with the right lifestyle choices and proactive healthcare, people with CVD can lead fulfilling and heart-healthy lives. Here are some things to keep in mind if you or a loved one are living with cardiovascular disease.

Routine medical care

Regular medical checkups are crucial if you are living with any type of heart disease. Routine medical appointments might involve things like physical exams, blood tests, blood pressure checks, scans, imaging, and more.1

These appointments allow your healthcare team (primary doctor, cardiologist, etc.) to monitor your heart health and assess how well your treatment plan is working. This also allows them to catch any complications or related issues before they become serious.1

Be sure to attend all scheduled appointments and take your medicine as prescribed. Tell your doctor if you have any new symptoms or side effects from medicine or other treatment.1

Monitoring your numbers

Keeping an eye on health indicators is another vital part of managing CVD. This includes monitoring your:2

  • Cholesterol levels
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Pulse
  • Lung health

Work closely with your doctor to keep your numbers in a healthy range. Ask them how often you should be getting these numbers checked. If your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are high, you may need to get them checked more often.2

Medicine, diet, and exercise can help keep your numbers in an ideal range and reduce your risk of complications from heart disease.2

Cardiac rehabilitation

If you have CVD, you may need cardiac rehabilitation or rehab. Cardiac rehab is a structured program designed to improve heart health and overall well-being.3

While the specifics may vary, cardiac rehab often focuses on:3

  • Exercise, including supervised exercise sessions
  • Education about heart health, including nutritional guidance
  • Emotional support tailored to your needs, including stress management techniques

Diet and nutrition

A heart-healthy diet is a must when managing heart disease. Focus on a balanced and nutrient-rich diet that includes:4

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy fats

It is also important to limit sodium intake. Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure.4

Consider working with a registered dietitian to create a personalized nutrition plan that aligns with your health goals and food preferences.4

Stay active

Exercise is crucial for maintaining heart health – even if you do not have heart disease. Regular physical activity can also help you manage stress and maintain a healthy weight, both of which contribute to overall heart health.4,5

Aim for a combination of aerobic exercises (such as walking or swimming) and strength training to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine to make sure it is safe and appropriate for you.4,5

Make healthy lifestyle choices

Along with diet and exercise, creating other healthy habits can help keep your heart healthy. For example, smoking is a major risk factor for CVD. It damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and contributes to plaques forming in the arteries. By quitting smoking, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart-related complications.4

Another example is limiting alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and cardiomyopathy. While moderate alcohol consumption may have certain benefits, it is crucial to strike a balance. Limiting alcohol helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart-related issues.4,6

Choosing to not smoke and limiting alcohol intake are vital steps in promoting heart health. If you are struggling with tobacco or alcohol use, get help.

Know the warning signs of CVD

Recognizing the warning signs of heart disease and having a plan for when symptoms occur is important. Having a well-thought-out plan can make the difference between life and death.2

Get familiar with the symptoms of CVD, such as:2

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, or back

If you or someone around you experiences these warning signs, seek immediate medical attention. It is always a good idea to have an emergency plan, including the location of the nearest hospital and how to call for emergency assistance. The faster you get help, the better the outcome will be.2

The overall impact of heart disease

Living with CVD can affect your life in many different ways – physically, emotionally, financially, and more. Seek support from loved ones, support groups, or counselors to help navigate the practical and emotional aspects of living with a chronic health condition.1

Thanks to advanced treatment options and research on CVD, there are new and evolving treatment options. With the right support, tools, and treatment, you can take control of your heart health and improve your quality of life.

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