Learn Your Risk Factors
You can lessen your risk of heart disease. By making healthy lifestyle changes or taking medicine prescribed by our doctor, it is possible to change, treat, or control these risk factors:
- Cigarette Smoking
Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. A smoker's risk of heart attack is two to four times the risk of a nonsmoker. Smokers who have a heart attack also are more likely to die and to die suddenly (within an hour). Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease.
- Other Smoking
People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke) but their risk isn't as great as cigarette smokers. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of heart disease, even for nonsmokers.
- Physical Inactivity
An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.
- High Blood Cholesterol
As blood cholesterol rises, so does the risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity, and diet.
- High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. It also increases our risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.
- Obesity and Overweight
People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart's work. It raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride (tri-GLIS'er-ide) levels. It also lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop. By losing even as few as 10 to 20 pounds, we can lower the risk of heart disease.
- Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes seriously increases our risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Even when blood sugar (glucose) levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you can.
Individual response to stress may be a contributing factor to heart disease. Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person's life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status. These factors may affect established risk factors. For example, people under stress may overeat, start smoking, or smoke and drink more than they otherwise would.
- Excessive Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure, and lead to stroke. It can contribute to high triglycerides, cancer, and other diseases, and produce irregular heartbeats. It contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide, and accidents.
- Moderate Alcohol
The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) is lower than in nondrinkers. One drink is defined as 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 1 fl oz of 100-proof spirits, 4 fl oz of wine, or 12 fl oz of beer. It's not recommended that non-drinkers start using alcohol or that drinkers increase the amount they drink.
Unfortunately, there are a few risk factors that we just can't change. But, take heart. By doing what you can do to change the controllable risk factors, you can greatly increase your odds of being healthy. Factors that are uncontrollable include:
- Increasing Age
About four out of five people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men to die from them within a few weeks.
Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women's death rate from heart disease increases, it's not as great as men's until both groups reach their 80s.
- Heredity, Including Race
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Having a family history of heart disease makes it more important to control other risk factors.
CONTENT SOURCE: www.americanheart.org