Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for American adults. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, there’s no way to eliminate your risk of heart disease, but it’s important to know what the risk factors are and what steps you can take, both medically and in terms of lifestyle changes, to reduce your risk.
What is Heart Disease?
Typically, heart disease refers to coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. With this condition, coronary arteries are narrow or blocked because of a buildup of cholesterol and fatty material called plaque, which is caused by fat and cholesterol in the blood; high blood pressure; smoking; and too much sugar in the blood. This buildup can block blood flow to the heart and cause chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
What are the Risk Factors?
High blood pressure or cholesterol, smoking, being overweight or obese, not getting sufficient exercise and not having a healthy diet can increase your risk of heart disease. Age and family history also factor into your chances of heart disease; women more than 55 years old and men older than 45 have a greater risk, as are people whose father or brother had heart disease before age 55 or your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65.
What Steps Can You Take?
The least invasive way of reducing your risk of heart disease or control it if you’ve already been diagnosed is taking control of your lifestyle factors that affect the heart. Eat a healthy diet, with lots of fruits, vegetables and fiber, and little saturated and trans fats and added sugars; exercise daily; get to or stay at a healthy weight; stop smoking, if you are a smoker, or avoid secondhand smoke; drink alcohol in moderation; and manage your stress healthfully.
After lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about medical interventions you can take to keep your risk in check. For patients in their 50s, taking daily aspirin can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, but this isn’t the right choice for everyone. People between the ages of 40 and 75 who are at high risk of heart attack and stroke can talk to their doctors about statins, which reduce the risk of heart disease.