Diagnostic Testing for Heart Disease (Q&A)
What's Your Risk of Heart Disease?
Those endless forms you fill out at the doctor's office — the ones that ask about your age, existing health conditions, and family medical history — are important for a reason. Doctors need these details so they can make informed decisions about your health, such as your risk of heart disease. You may not have control over some risks, but there are other factors that you can eliminate or at least manage. Find out what you need to know to take control of your heart health.
Risk Factors You Can't Control
There are two key risks to heart health that you can't change, but should be aware of:
Your age.Be honest when you list your age on any medical form. Doctors use your age to gauge whether your body is functioning properly for your stage in life. As we age, our bodies begin to show signs of wear and tear — as true for body parts you can see when you look in the mirror, like your skin and hair, as it is for parts you can't see, like your heart. The simple stress and strain of living makes your heart work harder as you age, and that's why your risk for heart disease increases as you grow older. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than 82 percent of deaths from coronary heart disease occur in people who are older than 65.
Family history.Tell your doctor if any family members have been diagnosed with certain health conditions, because many are hereditary — including heart disease. According to the Framingham Heart Study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, your chances of developing heart disease nearly double if one of your parents has heart disease. The study also found that your risk could more than double if you have a sibling with heart disease.
If you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor can watch for symptoms, or even help you prevent heart disease altogether. Early prevention is key.
Risk Factors You CAN Your Control
If you're already at high risk for heart disease because of your age or heredity, it's important to manage the factors that you can control, like smoking, stress, and inactivity. Even without uncontrollable risk factors, these unhealthy behaviors can make you more susceptible to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even diabetes — any of which can then lead to heart disease. Protect your heart from these controllable risk factors: ·
- Smoking.Tobacco smoke increases the risk of heart disease. Smoking decreases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that helps keep low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, in check. Without enough HDL, LDL cholesterol builds up in arteries and your risk of heart disease increases. In addition, people who smoke heavily may find it difficult to be physically active — another heart-health threat. Inactivity can lead to other health issues such as obesity and blood clots, which ultimately affect heart health. Talk with your doctor about possible options to help you quit, such as smoking cessation aids.
- Stress.Type A personalities — people who feel the need to control everything — frequently feel stressed. Jeffrey Fisher, MD, a board-certified cardiologist, clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and an attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, explains that type A people "can be prone to outbursts, which cause wear and tear on their hearts, putting them at risk for heart attacks." On the plus side, he says, people who are prone to stress are able to reduce their risk for heart disease if they can learn to manage their need for control as well as the anger and depression that set in when things don't go according to their plans.
- Obesity.Even if you have no other risk factors for heart disease, obesity itself increases your risk. People who are obese typically eat more calories than their bodies need. And if many of those excess calories are from saturated fat and trans fat, they contribute to high cholesterol levels, too.
- Inactivity.Are you guilty of too much lounging around? People who are sedentary are more likely to become obese, have poor blood circulation, and develop diabetes — three health issues that conspire to further increase your risk of heart disease. To counter inactivity, stand up and move around throughout the day, and aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Health Conditions That Raise Heart Disease Risk
Certain chronic medical conditions also contribute to heart disease risk, and the effects are cumulative — the more conditions, the higher the threat to heart health. What's more, some of these, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, have no symptoms. Medical checkups to identify and manage these diseases can significantly lower your risk:
- High blood pressure.High blood pressure can damage your arteries and heart by making them work harder to function properly. The force of high blood pressure can actually cause microscopic tears in the artery walls. These tears form scar tissue, which then acts as a trap for plaque buildup. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to increased risks for heart attack, heart failure, and other heart conditions. Modifying your diet, not smoking, managing stress, being active, and taking medication if needed can all help get your blood pressure where it needs to be.
- High cholesterol:When you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it begins to form plaque along the artery walls. As plaque builds, arteries narrow and become less flexible — setting up the scenario for a blocked artery and, in turn, a heart attack or stroke. Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and almonds, can help increase good cholesterol in your bloodstream and keep LDL under control. Your doctor may prescribe medication if diet modifications aren't enough to get your cholesterol in check.
- Diabetes:According to the AHA, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than adults without diabetes. In addition, at least 65 percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Diabetes is so harmful to your heart because it's often accompanied by other cardiovascular problems, like high blood pressure, which doubles your heart disease risk. Eating a healthy diet and being active can help lower your chances for diabetes or keep it under control.
Knowing all of your heart disease risks is the first step in forming a plan to get healthy and stay healthy. If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, it's important to work with your doctor to find a comprehensive treatment plan to manage all of your conditions.
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