By Ijeoma Isiadinso
Heart disease (including heart attacks) may be preventable if you are able to improve or eliminate risk factors that predispose you to both heart disease and heart attacks. Find out if you’re at risk for a heart attack below, and if so, take steps now for your health by scheduling a cardiovascular screening.
Some of the heart disease and heart attack risk factors that you may be able to work on to improve your chances of staying healthy are:
- Physical inactivity – Lack of exercise can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol. By exercising moderately several times a week you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Exercise also improves your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and lowers your LDL (“bad” cholesterol).
- Diet – by decreasing the amount of processed, fried and sugary foods and eating more fruits and vegetables you can decrease your risk for heart disease.
- Smoking – This is one of the major causes of heart disease. Tobacco and other toxic ingredients in cigarettes cause damage to the blood vessels. This allows cholesterol to deposit in the arteries and slow blood flow. Secondhand smoke also causes this same effect. If you quit smoking you will dramatically decrease your risk of heart disease.
- High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) – high blood pressure increases your risk of having of a stroke or damage to the heart and kidneys. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Control your blood pressure by limiting the sodium in your diet to less than 1500mg per day, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and taking medications prescribed by your doctor.
- Diabetes – High blood sugar levels damage the lining of the arteries and allows cholesterol plaques to deposit. Over time, this can decrease blood flow to the heart muscle.
- High Cholesterol – LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol, while HDL is the “good” cholesterol. The goal is to lower your LDL and increase your HDL. Your diet and physical activity will help increase your HDL and lower your LDL, along with medications prescribed by your physician.
- Obesity– A normal body mass index (BMI) range is 19 to 24. Maintaining a normal BMI through diet and exercise contribute to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, You can calculate your BMI with a tool available on American Heart Association web site.
Women have other atypical risk factors for heart disease and heart attack that many men do not have including:
- Mental stress and depression – Depressed individuals or those who deal with a lot of stress are less likely to follow the habits needed to live a healthy lifestyle. Stress can cause spasms of the arteries in the heart causing chest pain. Sudden, severe episodes of stress can damage the heart muscle causing a condition known as “Broken heart syndrome”
- Low estrogen levels – After menopause or hysterectomy, women have lower levels of estrogen. This increases their risk of heart disease compared to women who have not gone through menopause or had a hysterectomy.
- Autoimmune conditions – such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are atypical risk factors for heart disease in women
- Pregnancy-related health problems – Women who develop gestational diabetes or hypertension (including eclampsia or pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy are at increased risk of developing heart disease later in life.
A family history of early heart disease and a person’s age (over 45 for men or over 55 for women) are also risk factors for heart disease. These factors cannot be changed but are taken into consideration when evaluating your risk for heart disease. It is very important to know that although you cannot change our family history or age, you can do a lot to reduce the other risk factors listed above,
Although chest pain is the most common symptom for a heart attack in both women and men, women can have different symptoms and risk factors for heart disease. It is important to see a physician who understands the differences in identifying and treating women versus men.
If you are risk for heart attack based on the information above, you may need to schedule a cardiovascular screening. These are available through Emory Healthcare.