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The Centers for Disease Control reports that heart disease is the number one killer of men, women, and people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds in the United States. In 2020, 375,476 people succumbed to some type of heart disease. Every 40 seconds someone in the US has a heart attack—and for some the heart attack is silent and the person is unaware of it.
Anything that increases an individual’s chance of developing a disease is a risk factor. The following are some of the primary risk factors for heart disease and ways to prevent them.
High Blood Pressure
Because of the workload blood pressure puts on the heart, the muscle thickens and becomes stiff. The stiffness is not normal and causes the heart to function abnormally. Not only does it increase risk factors for heart disease, it also can escalate chances of stroke, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. Limit sodium intake and try to keep blood pressure at or below 120/80 mg Hg.
Heart attack and stroke chances increase tremendously with tobacco use. Nicotine—which is found in tobacco and vaping products—is one of many chemicals that make the heartbeat faster and causes the rise in blood pressure. Plaque buildup and clots are more likely to form because of smoking. Keep in mind long term exposure to secondhand smoke and vaping can also increase your risk. If you smoke, make a plan to quit. There are multiple resources available, including nicotine replacement, medicine, and behavior modification. Reach out to a trusted health care provider for assistance.
Obesity or Being Overweight
Excess body fat especially around the waist makes people more likely to develop heart disease, even with no other risk factors. If an individual is overweight, high “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL) are usually prevalent. It can also lead to diabetes, hypertension as well as heart disease. A weight loss reduction of 3 to 5 percent can reduce some of these determinants.
Individuals with diabetes are more than twice as likely to have heart disease. Keeping blood glucose levels under control can help, but the risks are greater if blood sugar is not controlled. Working closely with a health care provider and a dietitian to develop a healthy lifestyle can help. Medication to help control blood sugar levels may also be an option.
Many take for granted the importance of a good night’s sleep. Getting enough rest regularly is vital to cardiovascular health. It benefits the whole body including the heart and brain. It also can improve your mood, memory, and reasoning. Getting quality sleep can impact the way you eat, your internal organs and more. You should aim for at least 7 to 9 hours a night, keep in mind too little or too much can be harmful.
The risk factors listed are ones that can be changed with healthy lifestyle choices. Age, gender, and heredity cannot be changed, but remember the most vital member of your health care team is yourself. The interaction you have with healthcare providers can help reduce your risk factor of a heart attack.