Some types of heart disease can be fully or partially reversible. Managing risk factors and improving heart health through regular exercise, healthy eating, and medications can stabilize heart disease and reduce its progression.

“Heart disease” is a term for any health condition that affects the heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common type is coronary artery disease (CAD). This occurs when there is damage to the blood vessels or arteries that supply the heart, most often due to buildup of plaque in the arteries. This reduces blood flow and can cause a heart attack.

Heart disease also includes angina, hypertension, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, valvular disease, cardiomyopathies, and congenital heart disease. The goal of managing heart disease is to reduce risk factors and improve heart health.

There are many ways a person can improve their heart health. Lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures may be part of managing heart disease.

This article will explain how a person can reduce their risk of heart disease through diet, exercise, and medications.

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A person cannot always reverse heart disease, as it develops over time. It is not always possible to undo the damage, but a person can manage the contributing factors. This can prevent the progression of heart disease that can lead to a heart attack.

Heart disease has many risk factors. Treatments aim to reduce risk factors and improve the health of the heart and its blood vessels.

Fast facts on heart disease

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for most populations in the United States.
  • In 2020, about 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. resulted from heart disease.
  • The most common type of heart disease is CAD.
  • In the U.S., a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds.
  • The most common symptoms of heart disease are chest pain and breathlessness.
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Managing heart disease includes managing any modifiable risk factors.

Some of the main risk factors for heart disease are:

Medications, dietary changes, stress management, and exercise can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Sometimes a person will have surgery as part of managing heart disease.

Surgery for heart disease may include:

  • coronary artery bypass grafting, which involves taking a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body and using it to supply blood to the heart
  • heart valve replacement or repair
  • placement of a pacemaker, which uses electrical pulses to control heart rhythm
  • maze surgery, which involves creating a pattern of scar tissue to redirect electrical signals, blocking stray signals that cause arrhythmia
  • heart transplant

There is ongoing interest in learning which dietary patterns are best for heart health. Research shows that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an effective way to lower blood pressure to prevent heart disease.

Other research also suggests that this way of eating can reduce inflammation. Inflammation in the body can increase the risk of a heart attack in a few ways.

The inflammatory process plays an important role in atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the heart’s blood vessels. Inflammation in the blood vessels can worsen the progression of atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of heart attack.

A heart-healthy diet can help manage cholesterol and blood pressure levels and decrease inflammation.

The DASH diet includes:

  • fish and seafood, poultry, and other lean meats
  • nuts and seeds
  • lentils and beans
  • whole grains
  • a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • low fat dairy products

Read more about how the DASH diet reduces heart disease risk.

People who are more active have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Exercise can help manage heart disease in several ways, including by:

  • reducing blood pressure
  • raising levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol
  • lowering levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol
  • reducing stress
  • lowering inflammation in the body

A doctor will be able to help determine a suitable exercise intensity for a person with heart disease. A person may choose to work with an exercise specialist, such as a physical therapist, to support them in being more active.

Read more about heart disease and exercise.

Medications can help reduce the risk of heart disease. A person may take any of the following medications to manage heart disease:

  • beta-blockers to regulate heart rate and blood pressure
  • statins to lower cholesterol levels
  • diuretics to manage blood pressure and symptoms of heart failure
  • nitroglycerin to help relieve chest pain and angina
  • antiplatelets to reduce blood clotting in the arteries

A person may take several types of medications, depending on their individual risk factors.

Research suggests that chronic stress has a link to an increased risk of heart disease. Stress can increase inflammation and blood pressure, and being under a lot of stress might interfere with healthy eating and exercise habits.

It is essential that people find healthy ways to manage stress.

Strategies that may be beneficial include:

  • being more active
  • working with a mental health professional
  • connecting with others
  • practicing meditation or mindfulness
  • journaling

Read more about stress and heart disease.

Although some types of heart disease are not totally reversible, people can manage heart disease or reduce their risk in several ways, including by addressing risk factors for heart disease.

Dietary changes or exercise may help. People may also take medication or have surgery to improve their heart health. Regular follow-ups with a healthcare professional are important to monitor heart health.