Know Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease

If you know where you stand on the risk factors for heart disease, you can do something to change them for the better. McLeod Cardiologist Anne Everman, M.D., discusses what you need to know about heart risk factors:

Here’s a summary of Dr. Everman’s comments:

Knowing your risk factors allows us to address them aggressively. First, there’s your family history. You can’t pick your family. If a family member (a male before the age of 45, a female before the age of 55) had heart disease, that’s considered bad family history. If your 90-year-old mother is diagnosed with heart disease, we don’t consider that a significant contributing family history factor. Yet, recently a study stated that if you stay fit and trim, exercise and eat well, you can actually decrease your risk by 50 percent even if you have bad genetics.

Your age plays a role. The older you grow the more likely you are to have heart disease. Women over 65 and men over 55 are more likely to have heart disease. Post-menopausal women are most likely to have it. So if you’re surgically menopausal or post-menopausal earlier in life, your risk moves upward. Gender plays a role. Earlier in life, men have a higher risk. Once women are out of menopause and estrogen decreases, they actually exceed men in heart disease.

Diabetes is a big risk for coronary disease. We tell people, “Know your numbers. Know your sugar number. Know your A1C. Know your cholesterol number. Know your weight. Know your BMI. These are all important numbers.”

High blood pressure is the next risk factor. We call it the “silent killer,” because you don’t know if you have high blood pressure until somebody checks it and tells you. Your ideal blood pressure is 120 over 80. In terms of “high blood pressure, we’ve relaxed that a little bit. We won’t diagnose a person with hypertension, unless it’s greater than 140 over 90 on three separate occasions. Blood pressure factors are very intertwined. Things like stress, obesity, smoking, as well as race and gender — they all play a role in your blood pressure

Cholesterol. More women know their high school weight than their recent cholesterol levels. People are always trying to decipher their cholesterol numbers. Here is an easy way to remember: HDL is your good cholesterol. Think of that as the happy or “healthy” cholesterol. LDL — you can think of as “lousy” or bad cholesterol. That’s the one you want as low as possible. Have your cholesterol checked annually with your primary care physician. Or if you’re already being treated, every six months.

Obesity’s impact is easily seen. Put a picture of a 250-pound person and 120-pound person side by side. The skeletons are the same size. Bones are the same size. But you can see the dramatic changes elsewhere, starting with neck all the way down. The heart has the layer of fat all the way around it. The colon as well. The extra weight the body has to carry around puts a strain on the heart.

Smoking, another big risk factor. Cigarettes have everything from methane to sewer gas, insecticide, methanol, paint and toluene, which is a solvent. It increases your risk by two-to-four times. It’s more hazardous to women than it is to men. Smokers die 14 or 15 years before they would if they were a non-smoker.

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