Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death for adults in the United States. It trumps cancer, car accidents, and even opioid-related deaths. In fact, heart disease contributes to 1 out of every 4 deaths per year. That’s over 600,000 Americans that die annually (1). What makes these statistics even more devastating is the fact that simple precautions can be taken to prevent heart disease.
Prevention starts with knowing your risks. Some people naturally have a greater risk of heart disease because of uncontrollable risk factors such as age, gender, race, their family’s medical history, or their own cardiovascular history. For example, 49 percent of African American women over the age of nineteen suffer from heart disease. A major reason for this shocking statistic is simply a lack of awareness. Only 36 percent of African American women reportedly recognized heart disease as a major threat (2). To thwart the risk factors, we need to look at the risk factors that we can control:
High Blood Pressure – When the force of blood against the blood vessel walls is consistently too high, hypertension or high blood pressure is diagnosed. Hypertension impacts heart disease because this consistent pressure makes the heart and blood vessels work harder to deliver oxygen throughout the body, damaging them over time. (3).
Hypertension can be treated with different medications like diuretics to rid the body of salt and water, reducing pressure in the blood vessels. Sometimes, an ACE Inhibitor is also prescribed with a diuretic to block a particular enzyme in the body from constricting your blood vessels. Unfortunately, a side effect common with ACE Inhibitors is angioedema, or the swelling of bodily tissue. If this side effect impacts throat tissue, it becomes incredibly dangerous since it can block your airway (4).
Before hypertension becomes serious enough to require medication, there are natural steps you can take to lower it. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which encourages eating foods low in saturated and trans fats. Frequent exercise and low-sodium foods are also beneficial (5).
As you work to lower your high blood pressure, track your progress by entering your numbers into the American Heart Association’s blood pressure reader.
High Cholesterol – To bust apart any myths you might have heard, cholesterol is not inherently bad. Your body produces cholesterol to add structural integrity to cell membranes, to produce hormones, and to aid in bile production and food digestion. There are two types of cholesterol in our bodies. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are considered the “bad” cholesterol in the heart disease world, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) promote heart health by reducing the amount of built up cholesterol in the blood.
Too much cholesterol, however, can build up in your arteries and cause a type of heart disease known as atherosclerosis. This condition reduces the amount of blood flow moving throughout your body, and a complete blockage can cause a heart attack (6). Typically, a doctor will prescribe statins to patients suffering from high cholesterol. However, when a patient suffers from atherosclerosis, blood thinners may need to be prescribed to prevent any blood clots from forming or to clear the arteries of plaque. Statins have been known to cause patient side effects like memory issues, muscle and liver damage, and an increased risk of diabetes (7). Blood thinners also come with potential side effects that include severe internal bleeding and even death. For example, thousands of Xarelto lawsuits have been filed by patients and families who suffered severe complications from the FDA-approved blood thinner that lacks an antidote.
Rather than risk the potential harm from prescribed medications, a person with high cholesterol can use diet and exercise to control their LDL. Research done by Harvard Medical School found that by reducing saturated and trans fats, refined grains and sugars in your diet, you can lower your LDL. You can replace these fats and sugars with more fibrous fruits and vegetables that promote a healthy heart. Think leafy greens, carrots, and beans (7).
Diabetes – Did you know that someone with type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop heart disease? This connection is due, in part, to the high blood pressure and high cholesterol commonly seen in diabetics. On top of these added risk factors, a diabetic’s increased blood glucose levels also put a strain on the nerves connecting your heart and blood vessels. When you look at this damage and the potential impact of other type 2 diabetes risk factors, it’s no surprise that a diabetic is twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke. (8).
Apart from treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol with the above steps, a diabetic can reduce their risk of heart disease by controlling their blood glucose levels. A person with type 2 diabetes requires frequent blood glucose monitoring as well as insulin therapy. Diabetics can also use diet as an ancillary maintenance treatment to keep their blood sugar levels stable. The American Diabetes Association recommends using the glycemic index when developing a diabetic meal plan. The glycemic index ranks foods based on their effect on a person’s blood sugar levels. By eating foods lower on the scale, a diabetic can control blood sugar spikes with much more ease.
Smoking & Obesity – We lumped our last two major risk factors for heart disease together because they often play a part in the development of our other risk factors. For example, someone who is overweight or obese is more likely to develop high blood pressure and diabetes than someone more trim (8). Smoking is similar in that it can raise both your heart rate and blood pressure while also lowering your HDL levels. This can leave you susceptible to unhealthy high cholesterol levels (9).
Make an effort every month to learn about the risk factors that affect your life. Talk to your doctor about your numbers and preventative measures you can take. Then spread this new found knowledge all month long with your family and friends. Every little step we can take to educate our loved ones about the importance of heart health is critical to reducing the staggering statistics we currently face.
As a Health & Safety Investigator, Caitlin uses her background in Industrial Design and her passion for health and wellness to educate consumers. She strives to help people make smart decisions affecting their personal health and that of their families. She aims to educate Americans about the importance of heart health.
- Heart Disease. (2017, November 28). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
- Association, A. H. (2016, January 11). Heart Disease in African American Women – Go Red for Women. Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/facts_about_heart_disease_in_women-sub-category/african-american-women/
- What Is High Blood Pressure? (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/What-is-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301759_Article.jsp#.Wns6KJMbOiI
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: Medications to lower blood pressure. (2016, June 29). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/ace-inhibitors/art-20047480?pg=2
- DASH Eating Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
- Heart Disease and Lowering Cholesterol. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-lower-cholesterol-risk#1-1
- Statin side effects: Weigh the benefits and risks. (2016, April 26). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/statin-side-effects/art-20046013
- Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). How to lower your cholesterol without drugs. Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/how-to-lower-your-cholesterol-without-drugs
- Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. (2017, February 01). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke
- Association, A. H. (2014, January 23). Smoking and Heart Disease – Go Red For Women. Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.goredforwomen.org/know-your-risk/factors-that-increase-your-risk-for-heart-disease/smoking-heart-disease/
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