There are seven key factors that can increase your risk of heart disease. Most have steps you can take to reduce your risk.
1. Cigarette smoking - This is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have two to four times the risk of sudden cardiac death as non-smokers. The reason is that smoking makes your heart beat faster, harder, and irregularly, and it decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with non-smoking women who use oral contraceptives. Even second-hand smoke can be a major risk factor. Continual exposure to second-hand smoke nearly doubles a person's risk of having a heart attack.
2. High Blood Pressure - The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart must work to pump blood to the rest of your body. Yet in most cases, high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. That's why it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. A normal adult blood pressure measurement is at or below 130 over 85. A reading above 140/90 is considered high and you should be seen by a physician. People with diabetes should have an even lower blood pressure, well under 130/80.
3. High Cholesterol - Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the fats in the bloodstream and in your body's cells. It is part of a healthy body, but too much cholesterol can cause heart problems. The American Heart Association recommends that the average daily cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams, and less than 200 milligrams for people with heart disease. Cholesterol is found in all foods from animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry, egg yolks and dairy products, so these foods should be consumed in limited amounts. Saturated fats and trans-fats should be avoided and replaced with fat-free or low-fat foods.
4. Diabetes - More than 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, and another 5.7 million people don't even know they have it. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health complications, including heart disease. Research has shown that proper care, which includes eating the right foods, getting enough exercise and using the right medication, is the key to avoiding these complications.
5. Obesity - According to the American Heart Association, obesity is recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Being overweight raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers the "good" cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, raises blood pressure levels, and can lead to diabetes. If you are overweight, ask your doctor to recommend a diet and exercise program to minimize your risk of heart disease.
6. Stress - While stress is a normal part of everyone's life, too much stress can create physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, which, in turn, can lead to heart disease. While medical researchers don't yet fully understand the connection between stress and heart disease, stress can also lead people to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, skipping exercise and increased smoking.
7. Menopause - Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over 40, and that risk increases dramatically after the age of 50. The reasons for this increased risk include changes in the blood vessels and fats in the blood, and increases in fibrinogen, a substance that helps the blood clot. To minimize this risk, women who have gone through menopause should avoid or quit smoking, maintain an ideal body weight, exercise 3 to 5 times per week and follow a healthy diet. Women with conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure should also make sure these conditions are regularly monitored and controlled.
The Heart Center of Yuma is committed to helping patients keep their hearts healthy and strong. For more information on how you can prevent heart disease, call the Heart Center at 928-31-HEART (314-3278).