Am I at Risk of Serious Heart Disease?
Heart attacks are a leading cause of death in the U.S. Fortunately, the top three risk factors are ones you can control.
Each year, one in four Americans dies from a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some risk factors for heart disease are outside of our control — it tends to run in families and certain ethnic groups, for instance, such as African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans. Its prevalence also increases with age, and heart attacks tend to affect more men than women.
Yet several of the major causes of heart disease can be effectively managed with diet, exercise, and medication. Preventing serious heart conditions, therefore, requires you to define your specific risks and address those you can control. By being proactive, you can improve your chances of maintaining good cardiovascular health for the long-term.
Am I at Risk?
Understanding and mitigating your risk of heart disease means targeting the conditions and behaviors you can change. While heredity and ethnicity play a role, other factors are generally treatable, such as:
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure strains the arteries and blood vessels, causing the heart muscles to thicken and become stiff. Hypertension has few early warning signs, but it can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.
There are two types of cholesterol, the waxy substance that is made in the liver or occurs naturally in some foods. At high levels, low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol — it can lead to build-ups in the artery walls, restricting blood flow. Conversely, a high amount of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, reduces your risk of heart disease.
The nicotine and carbon monoxide contained in cigarettes raises blood pressure and limits oxygen in the bloodstream. Further, the damage smoking does to blood vessels can lead to atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) or a heart attack.
Fortunately, making some lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Staying active, eating healthy, and quitting smoking will substantially improve your overall health, as well as the health of your heart.
Hypertension and high levels of “bad” cholesterol are often linked to obesity and physical inactivity. Even a routine of moderate exercise can help strengthen the heart muscles and keep your weight/body mass index (BMI) within an acceptable range. Maintaining a healthy weight also lessens the chance that you’ll suffer from diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Avoid heavy, fat-laden red meats and sugar-packed drinks. In their place, consume vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that are high in nutrients and fiber. Add low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, nuts, and nontropical vegetable oils to your diet as well.
When you quit smoking, your body can begin to repair the damage done to your pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. If you’re having trouble giving up cigarettes, talk to your doctor about methods and medications to reduce your nicotine cravings.
If you’d like to learn more about the risks for heart disease, what your current cardiovascular status is, and how to sustain a heart-healthy lifestyle, get in touch with the specialists at Tri-City Cardiology by making an appointment today.