Heart disease, a general term used to describe several heart conditions, affects more than 80 million Americans according to the Texas Heart Institute. The Texas Heart Institute also reports that the most common form, coronary artery disease, remains the number one cause of death in the United States. To help prevent heart disease, doctors and scientists have identified risk factors, known as major risk factors, that have been proven to increase the chance of heart disease. Some of these risk factors are uncontrollable, including age, gender and genetics while others are controllable.
High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the measure of the force the blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels. This condition, which affects 1 in 3 Americans according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, may exist without any symptoms while causing damage throughout the body. As the blood pressure increases, the heart must work harder to pump the blood throughout the body. This can cause the heart muscle to become thicker and stiffer leading to heart disease.
High blood pressure can be controlled. To decrease blood pressure follow a low-fat diet, reduce the amount of sodium consumption, limit alcohol and exercise regularly.
High Blood Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and found in some foods. This substance is found in cells throughout the body and is transported in the blood. When there is too much cholesterol, it gets deposited in the arteries and the heart. Cholesterol builds-up, now called plaque, and causes the arteries to become narrower and harden which interferes with the flow of blood. When the heart becomes deprived of oxygen-rich blood, a condition known as coronary heart disease, the result is chest pain (angina).
Patients can control cholesterol through diet and exercise. For those who produce excess cholesterol due to genetics, a doctor can prescribe medications that can help to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Those who have excess body fat present a higher risk of developing heart disease. As weight increases, blood pressure also increases and the heart must work harder to pump blood through the additional tissues. Patients can control obesity by following a low-fat diet and participating in regular exercise.
Smoking tobacco products, such as cigarettes, pipes or cigars, increases the risk for heart disease. In fact the American Heart Association reports that smokers have a 2 to 4 times higher risk of developing coronary artery disease than non-smokers. Smoking induces an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and causes the arteries to constrict. The carbon monoxide inhaled in the smoke decreases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. All of these factors result in the heart working harder to get the same amount of blood and oxygen, leading to heart disease. Refraining from smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke reduces the risk for heart disease.