Understand your risk…it’s the first step in improving your heart health

  • Getting older:  As we get older, there is a buildup of fatty matter known as “plaque” that, over time, leads to narrowing of our arteries that supply blood to the heart (a condition called atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries"). This narrowing can eventually result in a partial or complete blockage of the artery.  If not controlled through modified lifestyle changes, this condition can result in a heart attack or stroke.
  • Gender:  Generally speaking, men are at greater risk of developing heart disease than women. However, more women in the United States die of heart disease each year than men.  A woman’s risk for heart disease increases after menopause.
  • Family History: A family history of heart disease increases your risk, especially if a parent was diagnosed at an early age (typically before age 55 for males and 65 for females).
  • Smoking: Nicotine found in cigarettes destroys the cells that line the coronary arteries and elevates blood pressure, resulting in additional stress being placed on the heart. This can increase your risk of having a heart attack. 
  • Poor Diet:   Diets that are high in fat, salt and cholesterol (a fat-like substance manufactured in the human liver and found in certain foods derived from animals like meat, dairy, and eggs) can contribute to the development of heart disease. 
  • High Levels of Cholesterol in the Blood:  Although a certain amount of cholesterol is necessary for some bodily functions to occur, an overabundance can have detrimental effects. High cholesterol can increase your risk of atherosclerosis (a hardening and narrowing of the arteries caused by the formation of plaque within the artery wall).  A blood test can determine your cholesterol level and whether it is under control. If not, changes in diet and/or medication may be in order.
  • High Blood Pressure:Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows. Because arteries are responsible for supplying blood to the heart, anything that causes these pathways to narrow or close can lead to a heart attack by stopping the blood supply.
  • Diabetes:Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and it is often linked with other risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure.  High levels of sugar in the blood associated with uncontrolled diabetes can cause a narrowing of the arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart.  It is important for diabetics to keep their condition under control and maintain a healthy body weight.  
  • Obesity:  People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. Excess weight can raise blood pressure, increase blood cholesterol levels and make diabetes more likely to develop.
  • Lack of Exercise: Physical inactivity is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well. 
  • Stress: Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries, as well as worsen other risk factors for heart disease. Stress can be cumulative and can ultimately lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and other physical conditions.
  • Poor Hygiene:  Not regularly washing your hands and failure to establish other habits that help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health also may contribute to heart disease.
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