Learn about the factors that increase your chances for cardiovascular disease and what you can do about them. Some risks, such as age and family history, can’t be changed, but many can. What are these major risk factors and what can you do to change them?Don’t smoke
Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable death. Cigarette smokers are two-to-three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than people who don’t smoke. The heart and blood vessels begin to see improvement almost immediately when you stop smoking, so it’s never to late to quit.
Watch your blood pressure
High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because it often presents without symptoms. (Some patients experience persistent headaches, dizziness and blurred vision with an elevated blood pressure.) African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, develop it earlier in life and have more severe cases. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a risk for heart attack, stroke and other heart-related problems. Have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years and more often if you have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. This chart will tell you what your readings mean.
Pre-hypertension means your blood pressure is getting high, but it’s not yet considered a high blood pressure reading. If you are pre-hypertensive, your doctor will urge you to make changes to your diet and lifestyle to help in keeping your blood pressure from becoming a problem.
Know your cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced by the body. The body needs some cholesterol, but having too much can lead to thick, hard deposits called plaque that build up on the inner wall of your arteries. Plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart can narrow or block blood flow causing the heart to work harder to provide an adequate blood supply—a condition that can damage the heart over time. Some plaque deposits in blood vessels are vulnerable to rupture and may lead to blood clot formation. If a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain, you may have a stroke. A heart attack can happen if a vessel to the heart is blocked.
A healthy diet and plenty of exercise are good ways to control and lower cholesterol. But if your cholesterol stays high despite these lifestyle changes, you may need medication to help reduce your risk.
Mind your diabetes
Diabetes increases your risk for heart attack and stroke, because the disease causes narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body. Have your glucose (blood sugar) levels checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of diabetes. Tight control of your diabetes can help reduce your risks for heart problems.
People who have too much body fat are more likely to have heart disease, heart attack and stroke. The extra weight causes your heart to work harder. Because you have more weight, your blood pressure and cholesterol can increase, as does the risk for diabetes. Work with your physician to develop an individualized diet and exercise plan that fits your lifestyle.
Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Cooper Heart Institute are distinguished for their expertise in diagnosing and treating heart problems. The Cooper Heart Institute offers advanced diagnostic testing, from complex cholesterol screening and lipid analyses to advanced echocardiography and nuclear studies. In addition to medical therapies, Cooper cardiologists and cardiac surgeons offer the latest in non-surgical techniques and surgical procedures.
To schedule an appointment with a Cooper University cardiologist at an office near you – in Camden County: Camden, Cherry Hill, and Voorhees; in Gloucester County: Washington Township; in Burlington County: Willingboro; in Cumberland County: Bridgeton; in Salem County: Salem; in Ocean County: Tom’s River – call our physician referral and information service at 1-800-8-COOPER (1-800- 826-6737.)