Know these heart disease risk factors

This article is sponsored by Adventist Health Care

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States — but don’t put all the blame on french fries and family history. Many powerful factors, some not so obvious, can significantly raise your risk for heart problems and even a devastating heart attack.

“You really need to know your risk factors—know what you can change. Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Know if you’re diabetic,” warns Geetha Pinto, MD, FAAC, a cardiologist with Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

Having even one risk factor can double your chances for heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. And having several risk factors can multiply your risk tenfold.

Know What You Can’t Change

Be aware of certain risk factors that you cannot change, such as age and gender. The majority of people who die of heart disease are 65 and older. Younger men have a greater risk of heart attack than women. After menopause, a woman’s risk of heart disease increases.

Family history and race are other major risk factors. If your parent had heart disease, your risk increases. Heart disease risk is also higher for African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, native Americans and native Hawaiians.

Get Serious About What You Can Change

To reduce your risk of heart trouble, take action to minimize other key risk factors that are within your control.

“You can change or modify many risk factors for heart disease, including several that are related—obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,”says Khanh Nguyen, MD, a family physician with Adventist HealthCare. “Lifestyle changes can impact these factors.”

Diabetes greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Diabetes is a ‘coronary equivalent’,” warns Dr. Nguyen. “If you have diabetes, we manage your care aggressively, as if you’ve had a prior heart attack.”

High blood pressure, or hypertension, and high cholesterol put a person at increased risk for heart disease. High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload. The heart muscle thickens, stiffens and cannot work properly. And when too much LDL (bad) cholesterol builds up in the arteries, clots form. Blocked arteries cause heart attacks.

Excess body fat, especially around the waist, also increases your heart disease risk. So does inactivity. “A sedentary lifestyle tends to go hand in hand with obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol which leads to heart disease,” says Dr. Pinto.

Smoking increases blood pressure and changes cholesterol. “It makes the cholesterol very sticky. So you’re predisposed to clot formation, not to mention cancer and other diseases,” explains Nguyen.

Not So Obvious Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Other risk factors for heart disease are not so well-known, such as sleep apnea. “Sleep apnea contributes to hypertension which leads to heart disease,” says Nguyen. People with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during the night. Fortunately, it’s treatable.

Energy drinks can be dangerous for people who already have weak hearts. “They boost your energy, but they also stimulate your heart, making it beat faster, constricting your blood vessels, raising blood pressure,” says Dr. Nguyen.

Mental health can play a role in your heart health. “Stress causes blood pressure to go up and makes the heart work harder,” says Dr. Nguyen.

Once you’ve identified your risk factors for heart disease, modify your lifestyle. Eat nutritious food, exercise and make smart choices to keep your heart healthy throughout your life.

Learn your heart age and risk of heart disease. During February, take Adventist HealthCare’s FREE online heart risk assessment for a chance to win a weekend getaway for two to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay or gift cards to Copper Canyon Grill. Visit to learn more or to take the FREE heart risk assessment. 

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