Heart and cardiovascular diseases kill more than 17 million people worldwide each year – more than half of all deaths in developed countries. Risk factors include age, health conditions, lifestyle, heredity, and gender. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk of heart disease. Making changes to your lifestyle and improving your health can lower your chances of having a stroke or heart attack. Are you at risk?
1. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most significant risks of heart disease and stroke. If you have high blood pressure, medication, diet, and exercise play a part in keeping it in check. With careful management, you can lower your risk.
2. High cholesterol is another dangerous risk factor. There are two kinds of cholesterol in the body, HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Both are types of fats, called lipids, which cannot dissolve in the blood. In addition, there is another fat in the blood, triglycerides. High triglycerides and/or LDL cholesterol raise your risk of heart disease by clogging your arteries. HDL cholesterol is thought to combat bad cholesterol by moving fat along to the liver, where it can be flushed out. Getting your cholesterol checked is important, especially if you are overweight or have a family history of cholesterol issues. You can lower your cholesterol with a high fiber diet low in saturated fats and by getting plenty of exercise. Your doctor may also advise a cholesterol medicine.
3. Diabetes puts people at much higher risk for heart problems. About 65% of all diabetics die from some kind of heart disease. Good control of diabetes reduces your risk of heart disease. Controlling diabetes is not easy. It requires regular testing, careful dieting, and plenty of exercise. While some diabetics need no medication, most take either oral or injected medicines.
4. Excess weight plays a major factor in heart disease and is also a risk factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The common thread for all of these risk factors is diet and exercise.
5. Cigarette smoking raises your risk for lung cancer, but it also greatly increases your risk of stroke and other types of cardiovascular disease. Many smokers die from the strain smoking puts on the cardiovascular system. Smoking makes your heart work harder by increasing the heart rate, constricting the arteries, and creating an irregular heartbeat. In addition, the chemicals in smoke affect cholesterol levels and increases the risk of a blood clot, which can lead to a heart attack.
6. Sedentary lifestyle. People who don’t exercise regularly are at higher risk of heart attack than people who exercise regularly. Exercise directly affects the heart by strengthening the muscles and increasing the flexibility of the arteries.
7. Gender is something to consider. Men under 65 are more likely to have heart attacks than women. Over 65, however, the risk is about the same, given similar risks.
8. Heredity plays a part in heart health and risk of disease. Heart problems run in families. If your family has a history of heart problems in people under 55, you are at greater than average risk.
9. Ethnicity is a risk factor as well. African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk.
10. Aging raises your risk. In about 4 out of 5 deaths related to heart disease, the victim is over 65.
If you’ve got one or more risk factors for heart disease, don’t panic. The key is healthy lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about age or heredity, but you can consult a doctor, get regular blood screenings for cholesterol and diabetes, quit smoking, eat a sensible diet, and get plenty of exercise. If you’re careful, you can add years – maybe even decades – to your life.