Are you at risk for heart disease? You health conditions, lifestyle, age and family history can all increase your risk for heart disease. Some of these risks are out of our control (aging, family history) however other risk factors are manageable.
Your health is not always completely in your control. But you can control some behaviors, like what you eat, improving your fitness, not smoking, and checking on your blood pressure.
Let’s talk about risk factors.
About half of all Americans have at least one of 3 big risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. If you are a man, your risk increases at age 45, if you’re a woman, your risk increases over age 55. These are the known risk factors that increase your risk of developing heart disease:
- Family history
- High LDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Having diabetes
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight
- Unhealthy diet
Tackling Your Risk
High blood pressure is a big one. When it’s not controlled, high blood pressure can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
Get it measured. Take your prescribed medication properly. And learn more about a DASH Diet eating plan.
High LDL cholesterol is also a risk factor. Cholesterol is a waxy like substance that can build up in the blood stream and stick to artery walls. It leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Diabetes If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. Data shows that adults with diabetes are at higher risk for developing heart disease than for adults who do not have diabetes. If you have diabetes, you absolutely can live well with it by eating to manage your blood sugar levels, and including exercise in your daily routine.
Your weight. Being overweight increases the risk of higher LDL and triglyceride levels in the blood, and can be associated with high blood pressure. Weight loss is hard but doable. Talk to your doctor and dietitian about getting the support you need to manage your weight.
What you eat. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats has been linked to heart disease and related conditions. A diet high in sodium and low in fruits and vegetables can be related to high blood pressure. Following a Mediterranean or DASH diet is a good choice for reducing your risk factors and managing blood pressure.
A Note About Women and Heart Disease
Women historically have been overlooked when it comes to research about lifestyle, disease, and treatment. Thankfully this has changed in recent years. While there is still a lot to explore, it’s known that women experience risk for heart disease later in life, coinciding with menopause.
What you may not know is heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Heart disease was responsible for the deaths of 310,661 women in 2021. That’s 1 in every 5 female deaths.
Know your numbers.
The lifestyle goals for reducing risk for women are the same as men. Complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes, all increase a women’s risk later in life. Women should be aware of their risk factors beginning in their 30s, then pay particular attention to your heart health in your 40s, as you approach menopause. Estrogen serves as a protective factor against heart disease, and declines in estrogen during peri-menopause, along with other changes that occur in peri-menopause and menopause, impact a women’s risk.
Blood cholesterol and triglyceride numbers often begin to rise in post-menopausal women as well as blood pressure. If you are entering peri-menopause (the years leading up to menopause), it’s a good idea to begin checking in on your blood pressure, and asking your doctor about your blood cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar). Since diabetes is a risk factor, monitoring your blood sugar control over the years is important. This does not require monitoring at home, but rather annual bloodwork that checks blood glucose.
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