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Cut your risks for heart disease

Health advice

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POSTED: February 14, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Coronary heart disease is America's number 1 killer of both men and women. Cancer is number 2 and not only is stroke number 3 but it remains one of the leading causes of serious disability.
What that should say to you is:  Unless you want to be part of these statistics, it is important to reduce your risk factors for these diseases, to know the warning signs and to understand how necessary it is to respond quickly when the signs occur.
There are definite things that you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately the following are risk factors that you can't change:
• Age. As you get older your risks go up
• Ggender. Men are more likely to get heart disease than women.
• Heredity and race. Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. And some races are more likely to get it than others. African-Americans, for example have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease.
The following are risk factors you can do something about:
• Tobacco smoke. A smokers' risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
• High blood cholesterol. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is  affected by age, sex, heredity and diet.
• High blood pressure. This increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
• Physical inactivity. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater your benefits. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.
• Obesity. Excess body fat, especially if a lot of it is at the waist, makes it more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even without other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart's work. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It can also make diabetes more likely.
• Diabetes mellitus. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not controlled. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
Other factors that may contribute to heart disease risk are:
• Stress may contribute. Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease and stress in a person's life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status.
• Alcohol abuse can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. It can contribute to high triglycerides, cancer and other diseases, and produce irregular heartbeats. It contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents.

This material came from the American Heart Association (website www.americanheart.org)

Ratcliffe works with the Coastal Health District.
 

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