Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many things that can increase your risk for heart disease. They are called risk factors. Some of them cannot be controlled, but there are many that can. Learning about them can lower your risk for heart disease.
What are the risk factors for heart disease that I can’t change?
—Your age: Your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older are at higher risk
— Sex: Some risk factors may affect women differently compared to men. For example, estrogen gives women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes raises the risk of heart disease more in women than in men
— Race or ethnicity: Certain groups are at higher risk than others. African Americans are more likely than whites to have heart disease, while Hispanics are less likely to have it. Some Asian groups, such as East Asians, have lower rates, but South Asians have higher rates
—Family history: You are at a higher risk if you have a close relative who had heart disease at a young age
What can I do to reduce my risk of heart disease?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to lower your chances of heart disease:
—Control your blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, at least once a year for most adults, and more often if you have high blood pressure. Take steps to prevent or control hypertension, including changes in your lifestyle
—Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control: High cholesterol levels can clog your arteries and increase your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can lower your cholesterol.Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides in the blood can also increase the risk of coronary heart disease, especially in women
—Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of heart disease. This is because they are linked to other risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Controlling your weight can reduce these risks
—Eat a healthy diet: Try to limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium, and added sugars. Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH diet is an example of an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lower your risk of heart disease.
—Exercise regularly: Exercise has many benefits, it strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. All of this can reduce the risk of heart disease
—Limit alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and add extra calories, which can lead to weight gain. Both increase the risk of heart disease. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks a day, and women should have no more than one
—Don’t smoke: Smoking cigarettes raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start now. If you smoke, quitting will lower your risk of heart disease. You can talk to your doctor to help you find the best way to quit smoking.
—Manage stress: Stress is linked to heart disease in several ways. It can increase blood pressure. Extreme stress can be a “trigger” for a heart attack. Also, some common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, are harmful to the heart. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or serene, and meditating.
—Control diabetes: Having diabetes doubles your risk of diabetic heart disease. This is because, over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart and blood vessels. So it’s important to get tested for diabetes and, if you have it, keep it under control
—Make sure you get enough sleep: If you don’t get enough sleep, you increase your risk of hypertension, obesity and diabetes. These three conditions can increase your risk for heart disease. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Make sure you have good sleep habits. If you have frequent trouble sleeping, talk to your healthcare provider. Sleep apnea, for example, causes people to briefly stop breathing many times during sleep. This interferes with your ability to get a good night’s rest and can increase your risk for heart disease. If you think you might have it, ask your doctor if you should have a sleep study. And if you have sleep apnea, make sure you get treatment
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