Know (and Reduce) Your Heart Disease Risk
You probably know the most common symptoms of heart attack: severe chest pain, shortness of breath, and shooting pain in the arms or jaw. What you may not know is that half of men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. So even if you feel fine, your heart may need some attention.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. While heart disease encompasses a number of heart-related problems, the most common is coronary artery disease, in which fats, cholesterol and other substances build up in the arteries and narrow or completely block the vessels that carry blood to the heart. As a result, the heart cannot get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function.
Are you at risk?
The fact that you many have no symptoms of cardiovascular disease makes knowing your risk even more important. A number of factors can increase your chance of getting it; here are a few of the most significant:
- Heredity. If heart disease runs in your family — especially if your father developed it before age 55 — you most likely have a higher risk of developing it yourself.
- Tobacco Use. With all that’s known about the danger of tobacco, it’s hard to believe anyone still chooses to smoke. Smoking puts extra stress on your heart, and increases your likelihood of developing an artery-blocking blood clot. Quit, and your heart disease risk begins to drop within days.
- Blood Pressure. When blood pressure rises, so does the risk to your heart. Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 120/80 mmHg. Talk to your doctor about your ideal numbers and how to achieve them.
- Cholesterol. There are two kinds of cholesterol: LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol). A build-up of LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries, which increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. “Good” HDL cholesterol can help keep your “bad” cholesterol under control.
- Diabetes. Two of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. If you have diabetes, talk to your physician about ways to reduce your risk.
- Obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, as it makes your heart work even harder than normal. If you’re carrying around extra pounds, dropping them can drop your risk as well.
- Physical Inactivity. If you typically go from office chair to car to couch, your low activity level equals higher risk. Cardiovascular exercise can help control other risk factors such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Plus, it strengthens the heart muscle itself.
Warning signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
- Pain or a “squeezing” feeling in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular or skipped heart beats
- Weakness, dizziness or sweating
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your physician right away.
- Diet & Exercise: Build most of your meals around low-fat protein sources, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Foods rich in omega-3 oils, such as salmon, almonds, walnuts, and ground flaxseed, have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Mix in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week as well.
- C-reactive protein (CRP): Your physician may recommend a CRP test, a fairly new lab test that measures the amount of protein in the blood and indicates the presence of inflammation. A high CRP level may signal a higher risk for heart disease.
- Aspirin: If your physician recommends it, taking a daily baby aspirin (81 mg) may help ward off blood clots. (Some medications, such as NSAIDs, should not be taken with aspirin.)
- If you experience any of the symptoms described above, call 911.
- See your Scripps physician at least once a year for a complete check-up, including blood pressure and cholesterol testing. For a physician referral, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (800-727-4777) or see our doctor finder.
- Scripps offers a variety of free healthy-heart educational to help you live a healthier lifestyle.
Scripps physicians care for patients with a wide range of cardiac diseases and conditions. A leader in cardiac care, Scripps has a cardiac arrhythmia center, a dedicated heart, lung and vascular center, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery group, and new minimally invasive surgical procedures that encourage quicker recovery.