What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is also referred to as coronary artery disease. In the US, heart disease triggers 735,000 heart attacks each year and causes the death of more than 630,000 Americans. 7 million Americans have suffered a heart attack at some point in their life according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease is very common and is known as the silent killer. You must know what factors can contribute to the increased risk of heart disease.
Risk factors refer to a health condition, lifestyle choices, family genetics or even age and sex that increases your chances of getting heart disease. 3 main risk factors are associated with an increased risk of heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. 47% of Americans have at least one of these 3 risk factors. These risk factors can be grouped into 3. Non-modifiable risk factors, modifiable risk factors and contributing risk factors.
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Let us start with the major ones
Sadly, these factors are one play a major role in the increased risk of heart disease, however, they are ones that can’t be altered. The more you have these risk factors, the more your likelihood of developing heart disease increases.
A big risk factor for developing coronary heart disease is age. Most people who pass away from heart disease are aged 65 and above. Both women and men are at a higher risk of suffering from a heart attack when older, however, women have a higher mortality rate after a heart attack.
Men are at an increased risk of coronary heart disease than women. Men are more prone to suffering from heart attacks at a younger age than women. Even with the increased death rate of women at an older age, their likelihood of suffering from a heart attack is less than that of men.
A child whose parents struggle with coronary heart disease has a higher chance of developing heart disease themselves in the future. Caucasians are known to have lower blood pressure than African-Americans. This higher blood pressure leaves the African-Americans with a higher chance of suffering from heart disease. Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans also have a higher risk of heart disease as they also experience higher rates of obesity and diabetes. These risk factors are ones out of your control. You cannot control your race, age or sex and hence you cant modify them. It is important then to make sure you try and regulate the other modifiable and contributing risk factors.
Factors you have control over
Smokers have a higher chance of developing heart disease compared to those who do not smoke. Smoking cigarettes has a high association with sudden cardiac death in people already suffering from coronary heart disease. Even the exposure of cigarette smoke to non-smokers greatly increases their risk of heart disease.
A rise in cholesterol in the blood is directly linked to a rise in coronary heart disease risk. If high cholesterol is present in conjunction with other risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking, the chances of developing heart disease skyrockets. Cholesterol is also regulated by sex, age, diet and can be inherited from parents.
High blood pressure
With increased blood pressure, there is more strain put on the heart to pump blood around the body with a greater force. This increases the heart's workload and thus causes the heart muscles to thicken and become stiffer. The heart thus adopts an abnormal function due to the stiffening of the heart muscles. This all contributes to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.
Lack of exercise
A lifestyle with little or no physical activity one of the risk factors of heart disease. Regular, moderate or intense exercise can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Exercise helps regulate blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity; all of these are risk factors of coronary heart disease.
People with an abundance of body fat - especially around the waist - are at an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. This is also true if there are no other risk factors present. Losing weight usually proves difficult for many. However, it has been found that those who are overweight, a loss of 3-5% of body fat can lead to a significant reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. Even bigger losses can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose.
Diabetes has been known to seriously increase one's risk of coronary heart disease. Even when controlled, diabetes increases the risk of not only heart disease but also stroke. These risks increase greatly if blood sugar is not controlled. It is crucial to ensure manage your diabetes with the help of your doctor. Lifestyle changes including eating healthily and getting regular exercise are pivotal in managing blood sugar levels.
Contributive risk factors
Stress is known to be a contributive risk factor for heart disease as it is not directly linked to heart attacks. However, it does increase the chances that people might overeat, start smoking or increase the number of cigarettes they smoke.
Drinking too much alcohol is linked to a rise in blood pressure. We know that increased blood pressure affects the walls of the heart. Excessive alcohol can also contribute to a spike in triglycerides which has been found to produce irregular heartbeats. On top of that, large consumption of alcohol also contributes to obesity. However, moderate alcohol consumption does have a protective effect on the heart. So drinking in moderation is acceptable. This does not mean that non-drinkers should start drinking alcohol.
A healthy diet is a key way of reducing the risk of heart disease. You are what you eat. What your diet consists of and how much you consume can affect the other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and obesity. Selecting a good diet is the best defense for your body. Meals high in nutrients, vitamins, and fibers are good for the body. A diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is always a good place to start. Other foods known to protect the heart are low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken, legumes, nuts, and vegetable oils. It is good to treat yourself once in a while to dessert, however, the amount of sugar consumed should be limited. A balanced diet and a good exercise regime will help in maintaining your body weight.
Not sleeping enough doesn’t just leave you tired during the day, it can also be detrimental to your health. Most adults need around 7 years of sleep a night. People who do not average 7 hours are at a higher risk or obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and heart attack. Sleep is one thing that needs to be prioritized. Make sure to stick to a schedule to help you regulate your sleep.
Prevention is key
You are never too young to worry. Heart attacks can happen at any age. So start doing anything you can to start a healthy lifestyle. It is important to assess the risk factors you might have and then move forward by developing a plan to reduce your risk. If you are over 40 years of age and have recognized many risk factors in your life, make sure to visit your doctor to develop a plan to address these risks.
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- "Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack". in , 2019, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/understand-your-risks-to-prevent-a-heart-attack
- CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Cdc-pdf [PDF- 3 MB]. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, 2017.
- "Top strategies to prevent heart disease". in , 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502
- Risk factors - World Heart Federation". in , 2019, https://www.world-heart-federation.org/resources/risk-factors/