How Can We Get Others to Take Their Cardiovascular Risks Seriously?
Heart failure is hard. Really REALLY hard. One of the things that helped me get through is the hope that I can use my experiences to help others take their risk factors more seriously! Personally, I had a SCAD (Sudden Coronary Artery Dissection) induced heart attack at 35 that left irreparable damage to my heart. So, while I had none of the traditional risk factors leading up to my heart attack, that is not often the case in the USA.
Risk factor rates
The rates of two of these risk factors - high blood pressure and cholesterol - are astounding. The CDC estimates that nearly half of the adults in the US (47% or 116 million) have hypertension. Only 1 in 4 adults have their hypertension under control.1
This is awful. Moreover, 28 million American adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dl. The odds are high that most of us have people in our lives who are living with risk factors for heart disease that are not under control.1
So how can we use our experiences to help others take their risk factors more seriously? It's a tough task because things like high blood pressure and cholesterol are silent killers. There are no symptoms like pain, fatigue, or nausea, that might propel someone to make the tough lifestyle changes necessary to bring these metrics under control.
From a personal standpoint, I try to mention the symptoms of heart failure and the degree of burden that they carry. Fatigue, lightheadedness, bloating, and stomach distention, and oh did I mention the damn fatigue? None of these make it possible for life to go on as normal. Also, the financial pressures that come with it and the added stress of managing such an illness are.
Does eating vegan meals sound like fun? No. Does cutting back on that soda, fast food or processed food addiction sounds like fun? Hell no. However, does not being able to return to a career you love or engage in the hobbies that you love sound like fun? HELL NO!
I'd reframe it from sacrifices to making the choices to prioritize what is important. Being healthy enough to have the functionality you need to enjoy life to its fullest is the most important thing. Without health you have shit. And that is the truth.
Using humor and compassion
On a lighter note, I think most of us have pretty good experiences/stories that serve as cautionary tales. Personally, I have found that humor can help. Sometimes people have a limit of how much hard and/or scary stuff they can tolerate, and humor breaks it up even if you are delivering a serious message.
Lastly, I think that sometimes it might be necessary to have a direct conversation. During these talks, I can understand why it can be frustrating to watch those we care about not take heart disease risk factors seriously when you are standing on the other side screaming WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
However, as hard as it is, I think it's beneficial to bring a sense of compassion to a situation. People do not typically react well to judgment, demands, or shaming. Also, realize that change is hard and change is harder when it's not a life-or-death situation.
It's best to figure out how to ask questions to facilitate a topic and/or draw out information, even if you are an advanced cardiovascular patient and just want those you love to learn from your experiences. Try to meet those who you love where they are!
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