Heart Disease: What’s Your Risk?
The topic of heart disease has been top-of-mind lately with several high-profile people experiencing cardiac events. Unfortunately these cases are not isolated. This year 635,000 Americans will have their first heart attack or die from coronary disease. Many of these deaths are preventable.
When stories such as these are highlighted in the news it tends to make us re-examine our own health. One of the challenges of managing heart disease is that in many cases there are no warning symptoms before the occurrence of sudden death or symptoms of heart disease can be subtle says Nina Radford, MD, Director of Clinical Research and a cardiologist at Cooper Clinic.
Are you at risk for developing heart disease?
Dr. Radford is an advocate of knowing and minimizing your risk factors for heart disease. But how do you know if you’re at risk? Dr. Radford suggests asking yourself these questions:
- Do you smoke? Twenty percent of Americans still smoke despite well-described health risks associated with cigarette use. Throwing out your cigarettes is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your heart disease risk.
- Are you overweight or obese? Almost two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese. Start by simply stepping on the scale to get an objective measure of your weight.
- Do you have high blood pressure? One third of all Americans do. Your risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you age. This is an easy risk factor to measure with a simple blood pressure cuff.
- Do you have diabetes or elevated blood sugar? Almost 10 percent of adults have diabetes and another 38 percent have pre-diabetes. This can be diagnosed with a simple blood test to check blood sugar levels.
- Do you have elevated cholesterol? About 15 percent of all adults have total cholesterol levels > 240 mg/dL. High cholesterol can be diagnosed with a simple blood test known as a cholesterol profile.
How do you know if you already have heart disease?
Chances are, if you are a man 50 years or older or a woman 60 years or older, you may already have plaque build-up in your heart arteries. Many patients may have modest or moderate amounts of coronary artery atherosclerosis or plaque and with excellent control of risk factors, may never develop symptoms of clinical heart disease.
Other patients may develop symptoms of coronary heart disease that may be fairly easy to recognize such as feeling as if they have “an elephant sitting on their chest” making them short of breath, sick to their stomach and sweaty. Or the symptoms may be subtle such as feeling lightheaded with activity, experiencing reduced exercise tolerance or generalized fatigue.
The critical issue with the development of possible cardiac symptoms is having them evaluated urgently.
Your healthcare provider can help you understand and manage your risk of heart disease. It’s important that you schedule a comprehensive annual preventive exam and take a proactive approach to your heart health and your health in general.