Ward Off Heart Disease … Before it Strikes You or Your Family
You can save lives and prevent heart disease! Heart disease (cardiovascular disease or CVD) includes:
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women. One in every two men, one in every two women and one in every three African American women will die of CVD.
The best way to protect your health is to PREVENT heart disease in the first place! Find out your heart disease risk and the heart disease risk of your family members. If you have heart disease, it is never too early to have your children start heart healthy habits.
Ward Off Heart Disease on Your Own!
Regular physical activity and a heart-healthy diet are key to preventing heart disease. By getting aerobic exercise most or all days of the week and by eating a wide variety of heart-healthy foods each day, you can:
- Decrease your level of “bad” cholesterol and increase your level of “good” cholesterol.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under control.
- Manage or prevent diabetes.
- Maintain a normal weight.
- Control high blood pressure.
- Reduce stress.
Before you start exercising, talk to your doctor and get screened for heart disease risk factors. By being aware of risk factors, you and your doctor can reduce risks for heart disease. Your doctor can help you decide if any medications may help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that make you more likely to get a disease. There are two types of risk factors, those you can change, and those you can’t.
Risk Factors You Can’t Change
Risk factors you can’t change (unmodifiable) include things like:
- Family history.
Age. The older you are, the more likely you are to get heart disease. If you are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 55, you are at an increased risk for getting heart disease. Depending on what makes you at risk for heart disease, you can also develop it at a younger age.
Gender. Men are more likely to get heart disease at a younger age than women—about 10 years. However, women are being diagnosed with heart disease more than ever before. Additionally, men and women experience different symptoms. Women often have a more severe disease with different and less striking or typical symptoms than men.
Family history. Does anyone in your family have heart disease? If a member of your family had a heart attack before age 55, you may be at increased risk. Heart disease in both parents at an early age is an even stronger predictor.
Even if your age, gender or family history makes you at risk for heart disease, you can still keep yourself healthy. There are several risk factors for heart disease that you can control. These are called modifiable risk factors.
Risk Factors You CAN Change
Risk factors you can change are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoking — both direct and secondhand
High blood pressure (Hypertension). High blood pressure causes your heart to work harder. As your blood pressure increases, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. Because of this, the heart muscle thickens and requires even more nutrients and oxygen.
High blood pressure also damages the lining of artery walls, which promotes plaque (fat deposits) buildup. High blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or greater. A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 or less. If you have other risk factors, even a blood pressure of 130/80 may be risky.
High cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol, “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Bad cholesterol sticks to the inside of an artery’s walls. This causes plaque to build up. HDL cholesterol travels through the arteries and decreases the risk of plaque buildup.
Cholesterol comes from eating foods from animals, such as milk, cheese and red meat. The body also makes cholesterol from foods with sugar (fruits) and carbohydrate (starch) content.
You can lower your risk of heart disease by keeping your good (HDL) cholesterol level at 60 or higher. A high HDL may even lower your risk. This is true even if your total cholesterol levels are also high (greater than 200). It is important to have both your total cholesterol and your cholesterol profile (HDL to LDL ratio) checked and evaluated in terms of your personal cardiovascular risk.
Cholesterol Goals. The general goals for cholesterol levels depend on your risk factors. If you do not have heart disease and have fewer than two risk factors, you should keep your:
- LDL cholesterol levels lower than 160 mg/dl and
- HDL cholesterol levels higher than 35 mg/dl
If you have Heart Disease and have two or more risk factors, you should keep your:
- LDL cholesterol levels lower than 130 mg/dl and
- HDL cholesterol levels higher than 60 mg/dl.
If you have heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, or diabetes, you should keep your:
- LDL cholesterol levels lower than 100mg/dl.
If you are very high-risk with established heart disease, you should keep your:
- LDL cholesterol levels lower than 70 mg/dl.
Smoking. Cigarette smoke damages the walls of your artery. It also decreases the amount of “good” (HDL) cholesterol and increases the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in your body. Arteries carry blood from the heart to body tissues. The damage caused by smoking allows plaques to build up in the arteries. The plaque may rupture or become severe enough to result in blockage of blood flow that “nourishes” the heart muscle. This could result in a heart attack. Secondhand smoke (smoke from someone else who is smoking) as well as smoking contributes to heart disease risk.
Diabetes. Having a family member with diabetes increases your risk of getting diabetes. Diabetes can make heart disease worse. If you have diabetes, you are at very high risk for CVD. Often diabetics are treated for CVD before they have a serious event. If you have diabetes you must meet regularly with your doctor and report any symptoms. This is important because diabetes can hide typical symptoms of heart disease.
Stress. Feeling stress puts extra demand on your heart. When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that increases your blood pressure and puts you at risk for CVD events.
Obesity. Obesity itself is not a risk factor for heart disease. Instead it contributes to many health problems that are risk factors such as:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Be aware of what makes you at risk! After all, it is your heart!
Points to Remember
Hope Through Research—You Can Be Part of the Answer!
Many research studies are underway to help us learn about heart disease. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:
For more information:
Go to the Heart Health health topic.