Over 600,000 Americans die every year from some form of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. In fact, someone has a heart attack every 42 seconds in the United States.
Although heart disease is a common condition, it can be prevented and managed by making healthy lifestyle choices. Here are some basic facts about heart disease: what causes it, factors that can increase your risk and how to treat and prevent it.
Types of Heart Disease
Heart disease includes several types of conditions related to the heart. The most common of these is coronary artery disease (CAD), which is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year. CAD is caused by decreased blood flow due to plaque buildups in the arteries that bring blood to the heart. There are several other forms of heart disease, as well, like angina, arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy. Symptoms of heart disease vary between different types.
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of heart disease depend on the specific heart condition and can be influenced by different risk factors including age, sex and family history. It’s important to be aware of these risk factors and monitor them closely with your doctor.
Certain conditions can increase your risk. These include:
- • High cholesterol: Excessive amounts of “bad” cholesterol, or LDL (low-density lipoprotein), can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. As the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood increases, your risk of developing plaque buildups in the artery walls also increases—this can decrease blood flow and lead to heart disease. In contrast, high levels of “good” cholesterol, or HDL (high-density lipoprotein), can decrease your risk.
- • High blood pressure: When the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries is too high, you can develop high blood pressure. If not controlled, high blood pressure plays a significant role in heart disease.
- • Diabetes: Diabetes, which is characterized by the body’s inability or limited ability to produce insulin, can cause increased levels of glucose in the blood. The risk of heart disease is two to four times higher for adults with diabetes than for adults who do not have it.
Behaviors and lifestyle choices that can influence risk of heart disease include:
- • Poor diet: Excess saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and cholesterol in the diet have been linked to the development of heart disease and heart attacks. A diet high in sodium can also raise blood pressure, leading to heart disease.
- • Obesity: Obesity can signal high LDL cholesterol levels and lead to high blood pressure or diabetes—both additional risk factors of heart disease.
- • Lack of exercise and physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to heart disease and increase the chances of developing other risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
- • Alcohol and tobacco use: According to the CDC, Men shouldn’t have more than two drinks a day, and women should have no more than one drink a day — consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Tobacco also raises the risk of heart disease, including secondhand cigarette smoke.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment and prevention of heart disease go hand in hand — many of the methods that help reduce the risk of heart disease are similar to those that help reduce symptoms and manage conditions if they are present. These include:
- • Controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, including regular checks with your primary care provider. People with high blood pressure often show no symptoms at all, so regular testing is needed for detection.
- • Managing diabetes or any other conditions that may increase your risk of heart disease.
- • Taking medicine. If you take medications to manage other conditions related to heart disease, it’s important to comply with your treatment plan and follow your doctor’s directions.
Lifestyle habits can help prevent and manage heart disease: eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, controlling weight and limiting consumption of alcohol.
If you’re at risk of heart disease or if you have conditions related to heart disease, talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to help you create a treatment plan that works best for your lifestyle.
For patients in Utah County, our internists provide a wide variety of care for diseases, disease prevention and other illnesses for adolescents and adults. We offer immunizations, health management counseling for chronic conditions such as diabetes, physicals and screenings for hypertension, osteoporosis and sleep disorders.
“Heart disease.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/definition/con-20034056
“About Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm