Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, both in the United States and the world. But that doesn’t mean people are on equal footing when it comes to the risk of developing an unhealthy heart. Heredity, age and many lifestyle factors all combine to play a role in each person’s unique risk for developing cardiac disease. While there are many genetic cards a person can be dealt that impact an individual’s risk of heart disease, there are also plenty of factors and behaviors that fall squarely within a person’s control. Understanding the difference will help people determine what actions they can take to lower the risk of developing heart disease. This is always an important issue for people to discuss with their health care provider during annual check-ups. While people cannot change their age or their family history, those are not the only factors to be concerned about. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have at least one of three key risks for developing an unhealthy heart: smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Race and ethnicity also play a role in risk levels. In recent years, Black adults were 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites, federal records show. Because they have high blood pressure more often than Caucasians, they have a higher risk of heart disease. That risk is also higher for Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans, according to the American Heart Association.
As people examine their risk factors, there are specific health problems that heighten the probability of heart disease, the CDC has said. These include:
- High blood pressure. It’s often called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms and can only be detected by having your blood pressure checked.
- High cholesterol levels. Unhealthy diets can lead to high levels of blood cholesterol, which causes plaque to build up in arteries and decreases blood flow to the heart. A blood test can determine if a person’s cholesterol level is high enough to put them at risk for heart problems.
- Diabetes. High blood sugar levels are linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
- Obesity. Being seriously overweight is tied to other health problems, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure
The good news? All these health conditions can be turned around. They can be treated with medication and lessened or even erased by a person’s commitment to lifestyle changes. For most people, lifestyle choices are pivotal when it comes to lowering the risk of an unhealthy heart. Research has shown that these are the key things to avoid:
- Foods high in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol.
- Foods high in sodium.
- Drinking too much alcohol. Men should limit their daily drinks to two, and women to one.
- Foods high in sodium.
- Not getting regular physical activity.
- Using tobacco products.
- How Heart Disease Disproportionately Affects Different Races
- Outrunning a Congenital Heart Condition
- Profiles in Heart: Survivors Share Their Cardiac Health Stories
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