More than one third of Americans have some type of heart disease. What’s scarier is being at risk and not even knowing it.
According to James McMahon, MD, FACC, RVT, RPVI, a cardiologist with Adventist Bolingbrook, Adventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals, there is good news. Heart disease doesn’t have to be a “silent killer” anymore. “Today, we know more about heart disease than ever before,” he says. “Since we know what causes it, we can potentially prevent it.”
Know your risk
Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed and others can be.
Non-modifiable risk factors include:
- Age – Your heart disease risk increases with age. In fact, more than 83 percent of people who die from heart disease are older than age 65.
- Gender – Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women. However, the amount of women in this country who suffer from cardiovascular disease is also on the rise.
- Family History – If you have a parent or sibling with heart disease, your risk increases. However, when they had a heart episode or were diagnosed is just as important as who. For example, if your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or a female relative before age 65, that constitutes a strong family history and these patients should be monitored more closely.
Modifiable risk factors include:
- Tobacco use – Smokers are two- to four-times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers. Smoking increases blood pressure and the tendency for blood to clot, as well as decreasing the ability to exercise longer. However, if a smoker quits, the risk of dying from heart disease decreases by 33 percent within two years.
- High cholesterol – The body needs cholesterol to function properly but too much increases your risk. A person’s total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. Targets for LDL (“bad cholesterol”) are based on your cumulative cardiovascular risk profile.
- High blood pressure – High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the blood vessels as well as the heart muscle to thicken and become stiff. Chronic high blood pressure can lead to a higher risk of stroke and heart failure. People should strive for a blood pressure lower than 120/80.
- Obesity – The more weight you carry, the harder your heart has to work. If most of that weight is around your stomach, your risk is even higher. This unequal distribution of weight, predominantly in the midsection, predisposes a person to altered blood sugar control and altered cholesterol levels. Dr. McMahon recommends that men maintain a waist size of 40 inches or less and women of 35 inches or less.
- Inactivity – Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease. However, regular physical activity lowers your risk, as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and the chance of being obese. To reap these benefits, Dr. McMahon suggests getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity, such as jogging or biking, every day.
- Excessive alcohol use – “A glass of red wine in moderation has actually been proven to reduce your risk of heart disease,” Dr. McMahon says. “But drinking too much is linked to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular complications.” If you do drink, keep it to one serving a day or less.
- Stress – Because stress causes adrenaline to circulate in the body, it leads to a faster resting heart rate and higher blood pressure – both of which cause the heart to work harder. Stress may also cause you to engage in other unhealthy habits, such as smoking or eating more junk food.
Prevention is the best medicine
Talking with your doctor is the best thing you can do to find out your risk for heart disease. “He or she can also give you individual advice on how to lower your risk,” says Dr. McMahon.
At Adventist Midwest Health, the latest technology is used to diagnose heart disease. Here, patients can receive a coronary calcium score, where a 64-slice CT scanner produces 3-D images of the heart and blood vessels. “From these images, we look for calcium density in the coronary arteries, which is a surrogate marker of coronary artery disease,” Dr. McMahon says. “Technology like this can help us screen patients early to avoid a cardiovascular event.”
Take your cardiac health to heart. Learn about all our Heart Score screenings and events in February by calling 866-533-7968.