A look beyond the universal risk factors — plus, what you can control.
By Lisa Cesarano
While most of us are aware of the general risk factors for heart disease, like obesity, high cholesterol levels and tobacco use, “they are so general, they apply to almost everyone,” says Tanya Dutta, MD, a cardiologist at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). Beyond managing these universal factors, Dr. Dutta advises paying attention to whether the following commonly overlooked or underemphasized risk factors apply to you.
- Having a first-degree relative (a parent or sibling) with heart disease, especially if he or she suffered a heart attack prior to age 55 for a male and age 65 for a female. Let your doctor know your history, but focus on recent generations: “Heart disease is complex. It’s not always simple to identify the exact cause of heart disease from past generations,” explains Dr. Dutta.
- Women who’ve had gestational hypertension (aka high blood pressure during pregnancy) carry a greater risk of heart disease. “Once you have a condition that is resolved, you don’t typically associate it with causing a problem down the road,” says Dr. Dutta, so it’s important to talk to your general practitioner about appropriate screening and monitoring.
- Anyone who has undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
- Anyone treated for childhood cancers.
Patients with any of the medical histories listed above should advise their health professionals.
Factors Within Your Control: Life’s Simple 7
While the above factors may be beyond our control, we can all work to help lower our overall risk. These guidelines for heart health are inexpensive, can be done by anyone and can make a big difference in the quality of your life and health.
1. Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke because it places a strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys.
2. Control Cholesterol
High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.
3. Reduce Blood Sugar
Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
4. Get Active
Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
5. Eat Better A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease.
6. Lose Weight
When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton.
7. Stop Smoking
If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.