Controlling Your Risk for Heart Disease

By: Gregory Thomas, M.D., MPH, medical director, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Memorial

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s one in every four deaths. In addition to the fatality rate, about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack annually.

With these numbers reaching alarming highs, it’s important that everyone knows their individual risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, there are some risk factors that cannot be controlled by living a healthy lifestyle, including age, gender and race. Other risk factors can be modified, treated or controlled.

Smoking

Smokers have a higher risk than non-smokers of developing heart disease, including sudden cardiac death. When cigarette smoking is combined with other risk factors, the risk for heart disease increases even more. Non-smokers who are exposed to smoke also can have an increased risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance in the body. A person’s total cholesterol is measured through an equation including the “good” (HDL) cholesterol, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. The higher someone’s HDL, the lower the chance of heart disease, while the more LDL and triglycerides increasethe risk.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the amount of force it takes the heart to pump blood through the body. High blood pressure puts great stress on the body’s arteries. Combined with other risk factors this blood pressure stress causes atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, the underlying condition that causes heart attack and stroke.  

Obesity & Inactivity

People with excess body fat, especially around the waist, are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if there are no other risk factors. Inactivity also can increase someone’s chances of heart disease. The heart is a muscle, and physical activity builds up that muscle and conditions the rest of the body, including the arteries.

Diabetes

People with diabetes have a high blood sugar, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. It is important for someone with diabetes to manage and control their blood sugar to reduce their risk. Regular exercise and weight control can limit the risk of diabetes.

Other Factors

Other factors that can contribute to heart disease include high stress levels, too much alcohol and a high fat diet.

It is important for everyone to know their personal risk for heart disease and take the necessary steps to lead a heart healthy lifestyle. If someone is unsure of their risk or the steps they need to take to control their lifestyle, the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial offers private, personalized consultations with a cardiology nurse practitioner.

The $55 heart screening includes a 12-lead electrocardiogram; cholesterol and blood sugar testing; blood pressure, weight and body mass index calculations; and a review of your eating habits and activity choices. To schedule a screening, `call (562) 933-2460.



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