Cardiovascular Services

Heart Disease | Cardiovascular Disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease) can affects your heart, blood vessels and arteries. Heart disease includes:

  • Cardiac valve disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Vascular disease

How do you diagnose heart disease?

If you have concerns about your heart or cardiovascular health, talk to your primary care doctor about heart screening or a referral to a heart specialist. A diagnosis of heart disease puts you at a higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke or narrowing of the arteries. The following tests are used to diagnose heart disease:

Who is at risk for heart disease?

Men are at risk of heart disease at a younger age than women. But women have equal risk after menopause. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of heart disease and/or stroke
  • Lack of exercise
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking or secondhand smoke
  • Stress
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Unhealthy diet

How do you prevent heart disease?

The key to preventing heart disease is managing the risk factors. People can lower their chances of heart disease, even after having a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem.

Take the first steps to a healthy heart. Ask your primary care doctor for a routine heart check. If you need to see a heart specialist (cardiologist), your family health care provider can give you a referral.

Lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on your heart health.  

  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This could be walking, biking, swimming or doing yard work. Choose an activity that you like.
  • Be tobacco-free. Don’t smoke or use tobacco. Stay away from secondhand smoke. 
  • Avoid trendy diets. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.
  • Vitamin pills and other supplements should not replace a healthy diet.
  • Fruits and vegetables first: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Try different kinds to keep it interesting.
  • Keep it colorful: It is best to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from different color groups every day. For example:
    • Dark green: broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, other green leafy vegetables
    • Orange: carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangoes, oranges, peaches
    • Red: tomatoes, apples, watermelon, strawberries, beets, cherries, red peppers
  • Get your grains. Whole grains are an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, all of which promote good health. Make at least half of your grains whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice. This will help you stay regular and healthy.
  • Proteins. Protein builds and maintains the tissues and muscles in your body. Your organs and immune system are made up mostly of protein. It is also a part of your bones, skin and blood. Protein digests slowly, so you may feel full for longer.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods, such as fish or lean poultry or lean meat. Beans and other legumes are also good choices.
  • An important difference among foods in the protein group is how much saturated fat (unhealthy fat) and total fat they contain, and how they are prepared. A healthy meal includes lean proteins which are low in saturated fat..
  • On the go? Nuts are easy to carry, ready to eat and include unsaturated fats (healthy fats) and fiber. Healthy choices include unsalted almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios. Remember, nuts contain a lot of calories. Limit your portions.
  • Dairy: Dairy products are a good source of protein, calcium, potassium and other vitamins and minerals that support good health. Eating potassium- and calcium-rich foods is key to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. This includes cheese and yogurt. Can’t digest dairy products? Try low-fat soy milk or lactose-free milk products. Nondairy choices, such as almond and rice drinks, are also available. Be sure to choose those products with vitamins and calcium added.
  • Skip sugary drinks. Most have lots of calories with little or no nutritional value. Choose water or 1% low-fat or nonfat milk instead.
  • Stop eating before you feel full.

Next Steps for Patients

While some patients are candidates for self-referral to our cardiovascular specialists, we recommend that you ask your primary care physician for help with the process.

Provider Referrals

If you are a provider who would like to refer a patient for MaineHealth cardiovascular disease prevention services, please review our clinical guidelines and call 207-885-9905.