Table of Contents
Mark A. Mahoney
Last week’s column provided an explanation on the various types of heart failure and listed some of the primary risk factors relevant to heart disease. The focus here is to illuminate some of these risk factors by explaining key components for each one.
Additional, more detailed information can be accessed through the links provided in the Resources section at the end of the column.
Risk factors: blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking
High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease.
About half of people in the United States (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, being overweight or obese, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use. In addition stress can also have negative effects on the heart.
High blood pressure increases the force of blood through your arteries and can damage artery walls. Having both high blood pressure (and diabetes) can greatly increase your risk for heart disease.
Too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in your bloodstream can form plaque on damaged artery walls High triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood) and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is thought to contribute to hardening of the arteries.
Smoking is a major cause of Coronary Vascular Disease (CVD) and causes one of every four deaths from CVD. Smoking can
- Raise triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
- Lower “good” cholesterol (HDL)
- Make blood sticky and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain
- Damage cells that line the blood vessels
- Increase the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels
- Cause thickening and narrowing of blood vessels
Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Positive lifestyle changes
These lifestyle changes can help lower your risk for heart disease or keep it from getting worse, as well as help you manage diabetes:
- Follow a healthy diet. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Eat fewer processed foods (such as chips, sweets, and fast food) and avoid trans fat. Drink more water, fewer sugary drinks, and less alcohol.
- Aim for a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing even a modest amount of weight can lower your triglycerides and blood sugar. Modest weight loss means 5% to 7% of body weight, just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.
- Get active. Being physically active makes your body more sensitive to insulin (the hormone that allows cells in your body to use blood sugar for energy), which helps manage your diabetes. Physical activity also helps control blood sugar levels and lowers your risk of heart disease. Try to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.
Manage your ABCs:
A: Get a regular A1C test to measure your average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months; aim to stay in your target range as much as possible.
B: Try to keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg [2017- ACC/AHA Guidelines] (or the target your doctor sets).
C: Manage your cholesterol levels.
s: Stop smoking or don’t start.
Stress can raise your blood pressure and can also lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol or overeating. Instead, visit a mental health counselor, try meditation or deep breathing, get some physical activity, or get support from friends and family.
Check out the following for more in-depth information on risk factors for heart disease.
The 2019 clinical practice guideline report on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease published by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) task force can be viewed at ahajournals.org.
The CDC served as the primary source for information presented here.
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 35 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]
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