Cardiac or heart diseases are on the rise globally, and the US is no exception around 610,000 people die of heart disease every year – this means that almost a quarter of death occur due to heart disease. It is a very serious thing, and you need to be aware of the facts of heart diseasep and whether you are likely to develop heart disease. There are many types of cardiac diseases:
- Coronary artery disease: the major blood vessels of the heart are damaged or diseased, hampering blood flow to the heart
- Congestive heart failure: failure of the heart to pump the requisite amount of blood
- Arrhythmia: abnormally fast or slow heartbeats
- Cardiac arrest: sudden stoppage of heart function, leading to unconsciousness, breathing
- Congenital heart disease: heart abnormalities that develop before birth, like faulty heart valves
The last one is not preventable – though it can be corrected with surgery. However, the rest of the heart diseases, to a certain extent, can be prevented, or their effects minimized through lifestyle changes – because they often develop due to bad lifestyle choices. Some factors are again beyond modification.
What are the factors that increase your risk of heart disease?
If you have any of the following conditions, you could develop one of the above mentioned heart diseases.
You are Obese
Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease – especially if you have a lot of fat around the middle. Obesity increases your risk for cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, which can all lead very quickly to heart disease. It is important to maintain optimal weight. Consult your physician to find your optimal weight, and get into a weight loss and management program – this can significantly help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels.
You have Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is very common today; having diabetes raises your risk of cardiovascular disease greatly, especially if the sugar levels are not properly controlled. You will need to get regular blood tests, make diet changes and indulge in physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day to control your blood sugar.
Your Cholesterol is High
Cholesterol is required for several body functions, but it has to be within certain levels. Cholesterol levels are elevated due to smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and genetic factors. Take a blood test to check your cholesterol levels to find out if you have cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease. Cholesterol includes HDL, LDL and triglycerides; the test checks for:
- Total cholesterol: This is the total of HDL, LDL, and 20% of your triglycerides. Preferably this should be less than 200 mg/dl
- HDL or high density lipoprotein: This is the ‘good cholesterol’, and higher levels are preferred; it should be above 60 mg/dl
- LDL or low density lipoprotein: This is the bad cholesterol, which should be ideally less than 100 mg/dl.
- Triglycerides: this is the most common type of fat that is seen in the body, and ideally it should be lower than 100 mg/dl.
A combination of high LDL and triglycerides and low HDL can be very dangerous; it can lead to the deposit of fatty substances in the heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis), causing coronary artery disease, which may eventually lead to a cardiac arrest. This can be brought down with medication, exercise and drastic diet change.
You lead a Sedentary Lifestyle
Not getting enough exercise is a huge reason for developing heart disease. Regular physical activity – moderate to vigorous – is required for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Inactivity can lead to obesity and elevated levels of cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease.
You have high Blood Pressure
Having consistently elevated blood pressure – above 120/70, can put you in the high risk category. It puts more pressure on the heart and makes it difficult for the heart to do its job. Chronic high BP can lead to congestive heart failure, because the muscles of the heart thicken and become stiff, and causes abnormal function.
You are a smoker
Cigarette smoking is a major standalone factor for heart disease, and sudden cardiac arrests, often fatal. In combination with other risk factors, it is doubly deadly. Even passive smokers – those who inhale smoke exhaled by smokers, are at high risk for developing coronary disease.
You’re very stressed
Problems at work or in the family are part of life; however if you allow it to stress you, you can develop high blood pressure. This is because the body’s reaction to stress includes increased heart rate, rush of blood, quickened breathing, and tightening of muscles. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques.
You Drink Excessively
If you can avoid alcohol altogether, that would be best. If you cannot, a drink a day for women and two for men is the recommended limit. Any more than that, and you’re inviting cholesterol and heart disease into your body.
Your Diet is Not Right
If you consume plenty of processed foods, fried, oily food, refined flour products, red meats, full-fat dairy, and so on, you need to make changes to your diet, because this is getting you a one-way ticket to heart disease. Include plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, lean meats, fish, foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like olives and olive oil, salmon etc., foods with fiber, seeds, and nuts.
Any of these factors is enough alone, but in combination – they can be quite deadly. For example: if you are overweight, and smoke; if you have high cholesterol, and are inactive – and so on. It is not very difficult to control these factors. What you need is determination and willpower.
There are some risk factors which are beyond your control.
The risk for heart disease increases with age – and there is nothing you can do about it, other than getting regular checkups to ensure that you don’t have the above mentioned risk factors.
Heart disease is more common among men than women
African-Americans, Asian-Americans, native Americans and Mexican-Americans are at higher risk for heart disease than Caucasians.
If heart disease runs in the family, chances are, you’re likely to get it even if you’re very careful with diet, exercise, are calm, and avoid smoking and drinking.
This makes it all the more imperative to control those factors which you can; so even if your non-controllable factors put you at higher risk, you can at least keep the effects to a minimum.
Do you feel you could be at risk for heart disease after reading this article? Even if you are not at immediate risk, it’s a good idea to get a regular heart checkup; early detection can help protect you.
Schedule an appointment with an EPIC Health physician now.
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Thank you for reading!