2018-02-28 / Community

Know Your Risk Factors For Heart Disease

by Carolyn Maschke

ALBANY – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the National Centers for Disease Control. February is American Heart Month.

“In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Knowing your risk factors for heart disease is vital,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Charles Ruis. Tobacco use, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, lack of physical activity and diabetes are key heart disease risk factors that individuals can do something about, he said.

Smoking is known to cause disease in the coronary arteries (the vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygenated blood, Ruis noted. “When these vessels become obstructed, a portion of the heart or the entire heart may cease to function – in layman’s terms, a heart attack,” he said. Tobacco should not be used by people who want to optimize their health, Ruis said.

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so he recommended having it checked on a regular basis. “Your healthcare provider should measure your blood pressure at least once every two years if you have never had it or other risk factors for heart disease,” he said.

“If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure – also called hypertension – your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure more frequently to ensure you have the condition under control.”

He noted that patients who have high blood pressure might be advised by their healthcare provider to make some lifestyle changes or to take medication.

High cholesterol is another area of concern when it comes to heart disease, Dr. Ruis said. “ Your healthcare provider should check your blood levels of cholesterol periodically,” he said. Those who have already been diagnosed with high cholesterol or who have a family history of the condition may have it checked more frequently.

“If you have high cholesterol, medications and lifestyle changes can help lower the levels, thereby reducing your risk for heart disease,” Ruis said.

“ Another factor that can affect your risk of heart disease is diabetes,” he said. “If your healthcare providers thinks you have symptoms of diabetes, they may recommend you get tested. If you do have the condition, monitor blood sugar levels carefully and talk with your healthcare team about treatment options.” The healthcare team may recommend changes in lifestyle to help keep blood sugar under control and reduce the risk for heart disease, Ruis said.

“ If you have one of these high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes and take medication, always follow your doctor’s instructions carefully,” Ruis said. “Never stop taking your medication without talking to your healthcare provider.”

Exercise is important to the health of the heart, he continued. “The human heart is about the size of a person’s clenched fist and it never takes a vacation,” Ruis said.

“ It pumps blood 24 hours a day,” he said. “Regular exercise can help keep the muscle of the heart strong and help keep the coronary arteries from becoming obstructed. Many experts recommend two and a half hours of exercise per week.”

Ruis said along with regular exercise, a heart-healthy lifestyle includes:

- Eating a heart-healthy diet (limiting salt and excess calories)

- Avoiding tobacco products

- Maintaining a healthy weight

- Limiting alcohol use

For more information about cardiovascular disease, go to https:// www.cdc.gov/.

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