As healthcare professionals who provide primary care services to patients of all ages, family nurse practitioners can significantly improve health outcomes and life expectancy. This includes working with patients across the lifespan to prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
If your professional nursing goals focus on health promotion, a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) career may be an ideal choice. The online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – FNP program from St. Thomas University (STU) can prepare you to improve health outcomes for patients, families and communities as a primary care provider and health management resource.
What Are the Causes and Complications of Heart Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of heart attacks. In many cases, a heart attack may be the first time someone learns about CAD. However, as the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show, heart disease is not just a concern for older individuals:
- Over 20 million adults ages 20 and older have CAD.
- In 2020, about 20% of deaths from CAD occurred in adults younger than 65.
Heart attacks can damage the heart and put people at risk for another heart attack. Additional complications of CAD include cardiac arrest, heart failure and stroke.
Common risk factors for heart disease include:
- Being overweight
- Having an unhealthy diet
- Being physically inactive
- Smoking tobacco
What Behavior Changes Can Improve Heart Health?
The CDC notes that about 50% of all Americans have at least one of the following major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking. The good news is that about 80% of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, is preventable, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 recommends the following eight research-based behavior changes for lowering the risk of heart disease at every age:
- Choose a healthy diet to lower the risk of heart disease by over 30%.
- Get enough physical activity. Studies show that only one-in-four teens get their recommended 60 minutes a day. Developing healthy exercise habits at a young age has many benefits.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Health trackers can come in handy to identify needed changes.
- Stop using tobacco. It can be a difficult habit to break, but what if your patients knew the risk of heart disease goes down by 50% within one year of quitting?
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Helping patients understand how tips 1–4 help improve cholesterol can be empowering.
- Control blood sugar, which starts with helping patients understand what causes blood sugar to rise.
- Manage blood pressure. Strategies for success include tips 1–4.
- Improve sleep. Managing the amount and quality of sleep can improve other risk factors, including exercise, food intake, weight and blood pressure.
How Does STU’s Online FNP Master’s Program Prepare Grads to Prevent Heart Disease?
STU’s online MSN – FNP program prepares FNPs to deliver primary care in various clinical settings, including primary care practices. Because FNPs tend to provide more continuity of care, they have the potential to promote lasting behavior changes that can prevent heart disease.
Coursework develops advanced knowledge and skills in relevant areas, including:
- Advanced health assessment
- Diagnosis and management for individuals, families and communities
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- Advanced clinical pharmacology
- Evidence-based protocols
- Healthcare for diverse populations, including analysis of health disparities
In addition, coursework prepares FNPs as advocates for public policy. For example, smoke-free policies in all public places can help prevent or reduce tobacco consumption. Nutrition labeling policies can promote healthy food choices. Policies that expand the scope of practice for NPs can improve healthcare access and outcomes in rural areas, where people are more likely to die from heart disease.
RNs ready to take the next step in their education and career have many options, including more than a dozen nurse practitioner specialties. As an FNP, you will empower patients at every age to participate in disease prevention and health promotion, including preventing heart disease. In the process, you can make a critical difference in health outcomes throughout your patients’ lives.
Learn more about St. Thomas University’s online MSN – FNP program.