Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all genders, races, and ethnicities in the United States. According to the CDC, it claims a life every 34 seconds. That makes it so that roughly one out of every five deaths is a direct result of heart disease. That’s a statistic that’s hard to swallow. Are you at risk?
With the advancement of modern-day medicine, doctors can look at various known risk factors and determine with some degree of accuracy what your odds of developing heart disease will be. Heart attacks and strokes can be catastrophic, but 80 percent of premature heart disease is preventable. That’s why it’s important to know and understand your risk.
Do you have a family history of heart disease? Do you lead a sedentary lifestyle? Are your eating habits not as great as they should be? There are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of suffering from heart disease, with certain risk factors worse than others. So let’s take a closer look at risk factors you should watch out for.
Age and Other Uncontrollable Factors
Although many of us would love to turn back time, age is one heart disease risk factor we can’t control. Age alone doesn’t cause heart disease, but the older you get, the greater your overall risk becomes.
Adults aged 65 and older are more likely than younger people to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease. In 2020, eight out of 10 deaths from coronary heart disease happened in adults 65 and older. Sadly, the longer you live, the more you’re exposed to possible heart disease risk factors, which means damage continues to add up.
Family history is another risk factor out of your control. For example, if your father or brother was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease before age 55, you’re more likely to suffer from it. The same goes for if your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65. People with a strong family history of heart disease typically have one or more risk factors.
Nearly one in two adults suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps. Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease because it increases how hard the heart has to work, which makes the heart muscle thicken and become stiffer.
There are several causes for having blood pressure, including genetics, diet, stress, and lack of physical activity. Other than genetics, you have control over your blood pressure. You should eat a diet low in salt and limit your alcohol consumption. You should also engage in regular physical activity, which will help not only strengthen your heart and keep you in shape but will also help to decrease stress.
According to the CDC, almost 2 in 5 adults in the United States have high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance made in the liver and found in the blood. Not all cholesterol is bad. HDL cholesterol is needed for making cell walls, tissues, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acid. However, when you have low HDL cholesterol and too much LDL cholesterol, you become at risk for heart disease.
High cholesterol occurs when bad cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries and limits blood flow. This can then lead to a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol, like high blood pressure, can be hereditary, but most causes can be controlled with healthy lifestyle changes and modifications, such as eating healthy and exercising. There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so it’s important that you have routine blood screenings to detect it.
Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels by causing an increase in plaque buildup. Having diabetes puts you twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke. Plaque buildup causes the arteries to harden and narrow, resulting in blood flow blockage. An increase in plaque also puts you at risk of developing a blood clot, which occurs when bits of plaque break loose.
Diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise in addition to medication. If you are prediabetic or have diabetes, you should work with your provider to develop a diabetes management plan to bring and keep your blood glucose to a healthier level.
Smoking, Weight, and Other Lifestyle Controllable Factors
One of the biggest causes of coronary heart disease is smoking. It is also one of the most preventable causes of premature death. It doesn’t matter how long you have been a smoker; if you stop today, you can reap the benefits. Smoking decreases your oxygen levels as well as increases the formation of plaque.
Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of heart disease all on its own. Carrying excess weight causes your heart to work harder, which can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s important to stay active and eat a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich foods, whole grains, and lean meats.
Yes, heart disease is prevalent, but you have the power to reduce and control your risk factor. Preventative health check-ups are advised to help you stay on top of your heart health. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to heart disease. Take action now and get on the road to Better Health and a healthier heart.