Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States—of both men and women. It affects many people at midlife as well as in old age. The good news is that heart disease is preventable. You can take action to reduce your risk of heart disease by focusing on your lifestyle and habits.

What is heart disease?

    Coronary heart disease—often simply called heart disease—occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. A heart attack occurs when the plaque in an artery bursts and a clot forms over the plaque, blocking flow through the artery and preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.

What are the risk factors?

    Risk factors are health conditions or habits that increase the chances of developing a disease or having it worsen. For heart disease, there are some risk factors that you can’t change, but many that you can. You can’t change a family history of early heart disease or your age, which for women becomes a risk factor at age 55. Men are at higher risk beginning at age 45. But most risk factors can be controlled with changes in lifestyle. Sometimes medication is also needed. Here’s a quick review of these risk factors.

    • Age
    • Having a family history of early heart disease
    • Race (African Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans are more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians)
    • Smoking
    • High LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and low HDL (“good” cholesterol)
    • High blood pressure
    • Obesity (more than 20% over one’s ideal body weight)
    • Diabetes and prediabetes
    • Uncontrolled stress and anger
    • Being physically inactive
    • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy

How can I take action?

    The first step to improving your heart health is to learn about your risk profile.  Specific questions to consider in your risk profile are listed below in the “Questions to Ask Your Medical Provider” section.  Once you have learned about your risk profile, take the appropriate steps to heart health—don’t smoke, follow a heart healthy eating plan, be physically active, and maintain a healthy weight. Start today to keep your heart strong.

    Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

    • Watch your weight
    • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
    • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
    • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
    • Get active and eat healthy
    • Manage your stress

    Questions to Ask Your Medical Provider

    • What is my risk for heart disease?
    • What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me and what do I need to do about it?
    • What are my cholesterol numbers? (These include total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides – a type of fat found in the blood and food.) What do they mean for me and what do I need to do about them?
    • What are my body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement? Do they mean that I need to lose weight for my health?
    • What is my blood sugar level, and does it mean that I’m at risk for diabetes? If so, what do I need to do about it?
    • What other screening tests do I need to help protect my heart?
    • What can you do to help me quit smoking?
    • How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
    • What’s a heart healthy eating plan for me?
    • How can I tell if I’m having a heart attack? If I think I’m having one, what should I do?