Recent updates on lowering your risk of heart disease
Heart disease remains a leading cause of mortality and disability in the U.S. and worldwide. It is estimated that there are 27.6 million adults with some form of heart disease, representing 11.5% of the adult population in the U.S. There are over 18.6 million annual office visits and 1.9 million ER visits for evaluations of cardiac symptoms. Some of these symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitation, light-headedness, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.
An important fact to remember when reading through these risk factors is that your physician’s assessment of your potential risk does not rely on only a single risk factor, but rather a combination of these factors in your health profile, family history and your past and current medical problems.
Recommendations for risk factors
Risk factor are conditions and personal habits that cause the development or make an existing health condition get worse. There are some factors over which we have little if any control in terms of preventing the onset of heart conditions, namely your gender, family history of early heart disease and your age. Others, however, can be eliminated or minimized. Recommendations for dealing with these risk factors are:
Hypertension: Uncontrolled high blood pressure remains the leading cause of heart, kidney, stroke and aneurysm. High blood pressure, combined with obesity, smoking, increased cholesterol, or diabetes, increases your risk several times. Current recommendations are for you to maintain your blood pressure below 140/90 or 130/80 if you are diabetic.
Cholesterol Elevation: The higher the level of LDL cholesterol, greater is your risk of developing coronary artery disease, especially if combined with other risk factors. Current recommendation of lipid levels are:
Total cholesterol level below 200
High density lipoprotein (HDL) above 40
Low density lipoprotein below (LDL) 160
Triglyceride levels below 150
The prior emphasis on reducing total cholesterol levels has changed in recent years to focusing on adjusting HDL and LDL levels with medication and lifestyle changes.
Smoking: The recommendation of not smoking remains a constant with all experts, for heart attack and stroke. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as non-smokers, due to heart and blood vessel damage caused by nicotine and carbon monoxide. Active or passive smoke exposure is considered a significant cardiovascular risk factor for women, especially if they take oral contraceptives.
Obesity: This is considered a co-risk factor for heart disease because of its association with hypertension and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of obesity in our country starting in younger age groups. The risk of developing diabetes is 66% in obese Americans over the age of 20.
Alcohol abuse: Small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis (one half to one drink per day for females and one to two drinks per day for male adults) can reduce your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, any intake over this has the reverse effect, because excessive alcohol intake is associated with increased blood pressure, weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels.
Diet: The general recommendation offered by cardiologist is that we should adopt diets that help maintain normal body weight, along with a lower salt and saturated fat intake, plus an increase omega-3 found in fish and oral supplements.
Exercise: This remains a consistent recommendation for preventing and treating known cardiac conditions. There is no agreement on what constitutes adequate daily exercise. General recommendations include a daily 30 minutes of moderate exercise that uses the large muscle groups of our legs and arms (walking, biking, swimming).
If you think you are at an increased risk for developing heart disease, you need to talk with your primary care provider about an evaluation. It has been shown that modification of your diet, regular exercise, stopping smoking and maintaining a normal body weight, blood pressure and blood glucose can reverse many of these risk factors.