Although health issues related to the heart are usually thought to affect older people, in fact anyone, of whatever age can develop heart disease. It occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. When this happens, arteries can narrow over time, reducing blood flow to the heart.
7.4 million deaths around the world per year are attributed to ischaemic heart disease and an additional 3.9 million die from hypertensive and other heart conditions. Heart diseases can affect people in their mid life when they are still productive and are building a family. Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Whilst some major risk factors can’t be changed, there are others which can be adapted with an impact on the risk.
Factors that increase the risk of heart disease that cannot be changed
- Increasing age. Over 83 percent of people who die of ischaemic heart disease are 65 or older.
- Male gender. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have heat attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women’s death rate from heart disease increases, it’s not as great as men’s.
- Heredity. Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. Therefore, it’s even more important to treat and control any other risk factors when there is a family history.
Factors that increase the risk of heart disease that can be managed
Looking at the positive side, there are major risk factors which can be controlled and there is enough evidence to show that they can reduce the risk of heart disease.
- High cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver or consumed in certain foods. It is needed by the body, and the liver makes enough for the body’s needs. When there is too much cholesterol in the body, because of diet and the rate at which the cholesterol is processed, it is deposited in arteries, including those of the heart. This can lead to narrowing of the arteries, heart disease, and other complications.
- High blood pressure is another major risk factor for heart disease. There are often no symptoms to signal high blood pressure in fact it is often called the silent killer. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle and/or by medication can lower the risk of heart disease and heart attack.
- Diabetes also increases a person’s risk of heart disease. For people with diabetes, it is important to seek advice on managing it and controlling other risk factors.
- Tobacco use increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Tobacco promotes atherosclerosis and increases the levels of blood clotting factors, such as fibrinogen. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that blood can carry. Exposure to other people’s smoke can increase the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
- Dietary factors affect heart health. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol raise blood cholesterol levels and promote atherosclerosis. High salt or sodium in the diet causes raised blood pressure levels.
- Physical inactivity is related to the development of heart disease. It also can impact other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, a low level of HDL (good) cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular physical activity can improve risk factor levels.
- Obesity is a direct risk factor for heart disease and is often linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
What to do about it
So now we know what the risk factors for developing heart disease are. Just knowing is not enough so we need to act and act fast.
- The first step toward heart health is becoming aware of your own personal risk for heart disease. Some risks, such as smoking cigarettes, are obvious but other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, generally don’t have obvious signs or symptoms. So a regular visit to your doctor will help identify these factors and manage them before they do further harm.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Choose a balanced diet and avoid food which is high in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Know what your healthy weight is and work towards that weight.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.
- Speak to your doctor if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
For more information and services related to managing your weight, quitting tobacco and controlling your heart condition, contact the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Dr Charmaine Gauci