Your Responsibilities

Do you have heart disease? Have you suffered a stroke? Are other factors like high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol putting your cardiovascular health at risk? Cardiovascular conditions are common, but they need to be taken seriously. Make your health a priority.

Here are some ideas to help protect your cardiovascular health:

1. Learn about your condition. This is an essential first step to a healthier heart—both now and in the future. The more you know about your condition and how to manage it, the better you will feel. You may be bombarded with information and advice from your health care team, especially when you are first diagnosed or if your treatment needs to be changed for some reason. Don’t be sheepish about asking your health care professional to repeat or explain anything that is unclear to you. You can also explore to learn more. Each condition center provides health information, the latest research, questions to ask, and much more.

2. Partner with your health care team. Playing an active role in your health care will help you to feel more in control. By being involved from the start, you and your health care team can work together to map out a treatment plan to best meet your specific goals. If you have heart failure, for example, weighing yourself daily and tracking your weight will provide a valuable record for your health care team and alert you to call your doctor if you’ve gained weight too rapidly (more than 2 pounds overnight or 3 pounds in one week).

3. Keep all health appointments and be prepared. Your doctor will want to see you on a regular basis to monitor your health. Even if you feel better or have other demands on your time (work, family, etc.), you need to make these visits a priority. Make the most of each visit by using CardioSmart’s Preparing for Your Appointment page.

4. Follow your treatment plan. No matter what your condition or treatment, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice. It’s the only way that you and your health care team will know if the treatment is working or if changes are needed.

5. Take your medications exactly as directed. Many people living with heart disease take medications to prevent problems, feel better or both. But for these medications to work, you must take them correctly.

A few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Take the time to understand why your doctor prescribed a specific medicine. You’ll feel better about taking the medication if you know why it is needed and how it can help.
  • Ask your doctor about side effects and how best to manage them.
  • Never stop, skip or change the amount (dose) of medication you take without talking with your doctor first.
  • Keep a current list of all medications you take, including any over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies and dietary supplements. Share this list with your health care professionals at each visit.
  • Remember, too much medicine—or not enough—or taking certain medications or supplements together can be dangerous.

6. Lead a healthier life. Hearing that you have or are at risk for cardiovascular disease can be very worrying. Many people say it was the wake-up call they needed to adopt healthy habits. 

  • Be physically active. Talk with your health care professional about a regular exercise program that is appropriate for your condition and fitness level. Remember, activities like gardening, riding a bike or cleaning the house count as activity.
  • Eat better. Make smart, heart-healthy food choices. That means eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and cutting down on saturated, trans and other types of fats.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol to excess. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

7. Know what might increase your chance of having problems. Make sure that you and your health team are aware of your risk factors—those things that make it more likely for you to have heart disease, stroke or repeat cardiac events.

8. Try to relax. Prolonged stress and anxiety can affect your body and your heart. Take care of yourself and try to lower stress levels by setting limits, getting a massage, signing up for a yoga class, meditating or engaging in other activities that help you to relax.

9. Enlist help. Managing a chronic (or ongoing) condition can take a lot out of you. There will be good and bad days. Joining a support group, talking openly with family members and friends or keeping a journal can help you cope. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if needed. Consider bringing a family member or trusted friend to your doctor visits, especially if you have a complicated condition.

10. Take heart. Remember that you’re not alone. In fact, one out of every three American adults will have some type of cardiovascular disease. The good news is that major advances in treatments have been made, so treatments are better than ever before. There is also much greater awareness, support and resources to help you along your journey.