You can start by working with your doctor to understand and control your risk factors for heart disease.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase the chance of developing a disease. For heart disease, there are two types of risk factors – those cannot be controlled and those that can. Luckily, individuals do have control over most of the risk factors for heart disease.
Risk Factors That Can Not Be Controlled:
- Age – Heart disease risk increases with age. Risk is highest for men over age 45 and for women over age 55.
- Family History – Having an immediate family member with early heart disease increases one’s risk. By having a father or brother who had a heart attack or was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister diagnosed before age 65, one may have a higher risk of developing heart disease. It is important that everyone know his/her own family health history.
Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled:
- Smoking – Cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart disease. Tobacco can cause hardening of the arteries. Cigarettes also raise blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen the blood carries.
- High Blood Pressure – Blood Pressure is the pressure exerted on the arteries when the heart pumps. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, and most people do not know that they have it.
- High Cholesterol – Cholesterol is a fatty substance that builds up in the arteries. The body does require some fats and cholesterol in moderation, but having too much raises the risk of heart disease.
- Obesity – Obesity is excess body fat. It has been linked to heart disease and its other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Nutrition – A high fat diet has been linked to heart disease risk.
- Physical Inactivity – Not being physically active can raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Diabetes – People with diabetes have a much higher risk for heart disease.
Know your numbers
It is important to know what your blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI) are. If you have diabetes, or are at high risk, you should also know your blood sugar (glucose). Check with your doctor on how often you should have each of these tests done, based on your own personal risk.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against your arteries as the blood circulates throughout your body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when the pressure level stays high for a long period of time without falling to a normal level. This can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Managing your blood pressure is key to a healthy start.
Cholesterol tests show the cholesterol levels in your blood. Your total cholesterol is based on your LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides. The HDL cholesterol in your blood is actually protective against heart disease, but the LDL cholesterol can increase risk of developing heart disease.
Talk with your doctor about your cholesterol levels so you can receive personalized guidance.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body mass index is a measure of body fat that is based on height and weight. If you know your height and weight, you can determine your BMI here
If your BMI classifies you as overweight or obese, talk with your doctor about changing your diet or exercising more to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of heart disease.
There are several blood tests that measure how much sugar is in your blood. People with higher blood sugar or "blood glucose" are at an increased risk of heart disease. The A1C measures your average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months.
If you have a high glucose reading, talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your blood glucose and reduce your risk of diabetes or control your diabetes if you have already been diagnosed.