April 2013

4 Heart-Related Conditions You Can Work to Prevent

Here's a heart-stuttering statistic: Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease. Many of those deaths could be prevented. How? Start with being better informed about what it takes to keep your heart healthy. Below are four common heart-related conditions and tips on preventing them.

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High blood pressure

Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure factors into more than 40 percent of heart-related deaths. The condition occurs when the force of blood on your artery walls is too high for a long period of time. Why the concern? High blood pressure doesn't cause any symptoms, but it can still seriously damage the body. In particular, it can raise your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) and stroke.

High cholesterol

Your body normally produces a certain level of cholesterol, a fat-like substance found in the blood. Cholesterol levels can become too high, though. One major reason: Eating foods with lots of saturated fats and cholesterol. Being overweight is another leading cause. Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol has no symptoms. And it, too, contributes to your risk for CAD.

Coronary artery disease

One of the most common types of heart disease, CAD develops when the arteries that supply heart muscle with blood gradually become filled with plaque - a substance made of cholesterol, calcium, and fat. As this plaque coats the artery walls, it hardens, narrowing the arteries in a process called atherosclerosis. If the plaque blocks blood flow to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.

Peripheral artery disease

Like CAD, peripheral artery disease (PAD) develops because of the buildup of plaque on the artery walls. But PAD affects arteries elsewhere in the body - most often those in the legs. Many people with PAD have no symptoms. But some people may feel pain or numbness in the legs when walking or doing other physical activity.

Preventing these conditions

You can't change some risk factors for these four heart-related conditions, including growing older and having a family history. But you can lower your risk with healthy lifestyle choices. Plus, taking steps to prevent even one heart condition, such as high blood pressure, can help protect your heart from other related conditions. Start with the following:

  • Limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Also cut back on salt in your diet. These two steps will help you lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

  • Keep your body moving. Regular physical activity, along with diet, could prevent a quarter of heart-related deaths in the U.S. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight.

  • Know your numbers. Talk with your doctor about your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. You should have these numbers checked regularly starting at age 20. Your blood pressure should be below 120/80. In general, your cholesterol level should be around 200 mg/dL or lower. HDL ("good") cholesterol should be at least 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women, and LDL ("bad") cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dL.

  • Stop smoking, if needed. Smoking doubles your risk for CAD and is a key contributor to high blood pressure.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

 

For more ways to boost your heart health, take this quiz on heart disease prevention. 

 

Online Resources

American Heart Association - Preventing Heart Disease at Any Age

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - Your Guide to a Healthy Heart

 

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