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Preventing heart disease is possible in certain cases. The following is intended to be a patient guideline for risk factors.

Risk factors that can’t be controlled

Age – About 84% of heart disease deaths occur at age 65 or older.

Gender – Men are at greater risk for heart attacks than women, and have them earlier in life. However, the risk of developing heart disease increases greatly for post-menopausal women.

Heredity – People with a family history of heart disease have a greater likelihood of developing the disease themselves.

Ethnicity – The likelihood of developing heart disease varies with ethnicity. The American Heart Association reports that African-Americans have more severe high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease than whites. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican-Americans, Native-American Indians, Native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans.

Risk factors that can be controlled

Smoking – Cigarette smoking is a leading factor in sudden cardiac death. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking also interacts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for heart disease.

High blood cholesterol – Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced by the body. It is found in eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Although some cholesterol is necessary, high levels accelerate atherosclerosis, the leading cause of heart disease. Normal cholesterol levels should be less than 200mg/dl. For those with heart disease, they should be under 130mg/dl.

High blood pressure – Also known as hypertension, this is usually a symptom less condition that increases the workload on the heart, causing it to enlarge and weaken over time. The condition also increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.

Physical inactivity – A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease. The heart is a muscle that works better when exercised. Besides increasing the heart’s efficiency, regular exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, and help lower blood pressure. Regular aerobic workouts for just 30 minutes three times a week can help protect the body against heart disease.

Obesity and overweight – Excess weight puts extra strain on the heart, raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

Diabetes mellitus – Diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease. In fact, approximately two-thirds of diabetics die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.

Stress – Prolonged stress, even at low levels, makes the heart work harder. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Exercise, counseling, and stress management classes can help keep stress under control.

Alcohol – Excessive amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure, and lead to stroke. It can contribute to high triglycerides, cancer and other diseases, and cause an irregular heartbeat. Some studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease in some individuals.

For more information on risk factors and heart disease, contact St. Vincent Medical Center.