Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but that doesn't mean it's everyone's fate. Although some risk factors are unable to be changed, such as family history, sex or age, there are some key heart disease prevention steps that can be done.
The Preventive Cardiology concept is an important part of Cardiovascular Medicine. It's our mission is to help prevent cardiovascular disease in those who are at risk. Strategies for Prevention starts with an excellent review of the individual's current medical history, all present medications, the benefits and disadvantages of additional drug therapy, noninvasive assessment of atherosclerosis, and exercise testing. Preventive Cardiology focuses on promoting health, preventing disease, and managing the health of communities.
You can prevent heart disease by following a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are strategies to help you protect your heart.
Don't smoke or use tobacco
- Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
- Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.
- Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than are those who don't smoke or take birth control pills, because both can increase the risk of blood clots.
- When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smokeless tobacco, low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke also can be risky. Even so-called social smoking — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — can be dangerous and increase the risk of heart disease.
Exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week
- Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.
- Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.
- A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Aim to eat beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish as part of a healthy diet.
- Avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet.
- Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — try to limit or avoid saturated fat and trans fat. Aim to keep saturated fat to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories. And try to keep trans fat out of your diet altogether.
Maintain a healthy weight
- Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease.
Get enough quality sleep
- Sleep deprivation can do more than leave you yawning throughout the day; it can harm your health. People who don't get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.
- Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you're getting enough sleep. But, if you're constantly reaching for the snooze button and it's a struggle to get out of bed, you need more sleep each night.
- Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health.
Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
- Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings usually start in childhood. You should have a blood pressure test performed at least once every two years to screen for high blood pressure as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, starting at age 18.
- Cholesterol levels. Adults should generally have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 18. Earlier testing may be recommended if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease.
- Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test or hemoglobin A1C test to check for diabetes.
Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, our cardiologists may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you don't have other risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.
If you have a condition such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, our cardiologists may prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes.
Your age and family history also affect your risk for heart disease. Your risk is higher if:
- You are a woman over age 55
- You are a man over age 45
- Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
- Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65
Does Heart Disease Run in Your Family?
What you should know about family history and cardiovascular disease:
- If a first-degree male relative (e.g. father, brother) has suffered a heart attack before the age of 55, or if a first-degree female relative has suffered one before the age of 65, you are at greater risk of developing heart disease.
- If both parents have suffered from heart disease before the age of 55, your risk of developing heart disease can rise to 50% compared to the general population. However, you can protect yourself by taking care of your heart, as the development of cardiovascular disease involves many different factors, not just your family history.
- Your chance of having a stroke is increased if first-degree relatives have had strokes. If they were young when they had their stroke, then the risk is slightly higher. Studies have shown that the risk increases if you are a woman and your mother has suffered a stroke.
- Studies have shown a genetic component for both hypertension and abnormal blood lipids, factors related to the development of cardiovascular disease.
- One of the inherited factors is high cholesterol level, known as familial hypercholesterolemia. If you have inherited this condition then you will experience a buildup of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood. This can lead to coronary heart disease.
- Type 2 diabetes also has a genetic component, so if one of your parents developed the condition you are at greater risk of developing it too. Type 2 diabetes is another risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease.
- In the case of stroke, it is believed that inheriting hypertension is a key factor in the familial link of ischemic stroke
At Three Village Cardiology, our Cardiologists practice Preventive Cardiology as an important step of Cardiovascular Medicine. We will ask you about your family's medical background at your first visit. The physician will also ask about your medical history including basic screening tests -- which include blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol checks. The Cardiologists will also consider other things -- such as your weight, how active you are, and whether you smoke to help improve your overall heart health.