Lowering Your Risk of Heart Disease
 
Genetics only play one part of your heart health.

Lowering Your Risk of Heart Disease

By Jennifer Boidy, RN

Some heart diseases run in families. Does this mean you are doomed? Absolutely not! While there are risk factors that are out of your control, there are steps you can take to live a heart-healthy life and help prevent disease.

The risk factors

Certain traits, conditions or habits may raise your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). Some of these risk factors you can't control, others you can. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains that risk factors you can't control include aging and having a family history of CHD. But there are other factors that increase your risk, and addressing them puts you on a path toward better heart health. These include:

  • High cholesterol level
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Inactivity

By acting on the risk factors you have control over, you may help prevent or delay CHD. The keys to reducing your risk are living a heart healthy lifestyle and following the recommendations of your healthcare provider.

Lifestyle tips for disease prevention

To prevent heart disease, incorporate the necessary steps to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within healthy ranges into your lifestyle. The American Heart Association gives steps to address the seven aspects of risk so you can proactively improve your health and greatly reduce your risk of getting heart disease:

  • Pay attention to food labels so that you eat a balanced diet, low in salt, sugar, cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Get regular exercise several times per week.
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range.
  • Quit smoking to protect your arteries.

Preventive medical care

Taking measures at home is important, but don't forget the importance of checkups with a doctor. See your doctor regularly to get your cholesterol level and blood pressure checked. If you have symptoms of diabetes, your doctor will likely test your blood sugar level. If you have any conditions that put you at risk of heart disease, they can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.

You should also mention to your doctor if you experience leg pain or cramping when you walk, chronic indigestion, chest pain or any symptom that concerns you. They can test you for different types of heart disease. An early diagnosis can prevent complications and even slow or stop the progression of the disease, so don't be afraid to go in for your annual exam and speak up about your concerns.

Understanding coronary heart disease

The buildup of plaque within the walls of the arteries leading to your heart is called atherosclerosis. Also commonly known as "hardening of the arteries," it can occur in the arteries anywhere in your body. The plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the blood. The two most common conditions caused by atherosclerosis are peripheral artery disease and coronary artery disease. These conditions can weaken the heart and lead to serious problems such as arrhythmias, heart attack and stroke. Watch for signs such as chest pain or pain or numbness in a limb.

If you have risk factors for heart disease, especially hereditary factors, it's important to assess your lifestyle. Ensuring you're making healthy choices when it comes to diet, exercise and other habits can make the difference in your heart health.