Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it accounts for one in four deaths or about 610,000 people every year.
While there are many kinds of heart disease, when we talk about heart disease, we are usually talking about coronary artery disease. A narrowing or blockage of blood vessels that can cause a stroke, chest pain, or a heart attack, coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and accounts for 60 percent of all heart disease fatalities.
Who’s at Risk
There are two kinds of risk factors for coronary artery disease — those you can modify and those you can’t. One risk factor you can’t modify is a family history of heart disease, which increases your chances of getting heart disease substantially. Other non-modifiable risk factors include age and gender.
The good news is that no matter your age, gender, or family history, there are many risk factors you can change through lifestyle changes and/or medication. A single risk factor can double your risk of coronary artery disease, but having three or more risk factors can actually increase your risk tenfold, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Primary Risk Factors
High blood pressure. You should have your blood pressure checked yearly with your annual physical exam. If it is higher than 120/80, your doctor may want to check it more often.
Cholesterol. A lipid panel measures total cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. Your doctor will decide how often to screen you based on your lipid panel results and risk profile.
Untreated diabetes. If you’re overweight and have at least one additional risk factor, your doctor may recommend testing you for diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Obesity. Being overweight is a major risk factor, and managing your weight can help mitigate other risk factors, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Smoking, Diet, and Exercise. If you smoke, your doctor will likely suggest that you quit and refer you to programs to help. He or she will also likely talk to you about avoiding trans and saturated fats and high-salt packaged and fast foods and eating more whole foods, especially grains, fruits, and vegetables. And he or she will recommend regular exercise if you are not physically active.
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