The 3 Biggest Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Every year in the U.S., there are well over 700,000 new heart attacks and 335,000 repeat heart attacks. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Everyone can take simple steps to reduce the modifiable risk factors of heart disease. And when we say everyone, we mean everyone. While some heart disease risk factors are out of your control – including being a man, having a family history of heart disease and simply getting older – you can still do a lot to help prevent a heart attack.
These are the three biggest risk factors for heart disease. To a large extent, they are all within your control.
Heart Disease Risk Factor #1: Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It’s a buildup of fatty material, called plaque, in your arteries. Plaque can harden and narrow your arteries, reducing blood flow to your heart muscle. Plaque can also rupture and cause a blood clot to form.
You can help prevent it from forming in your arteries – and stop any buildup you have from getting worse – with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Skip the fast-food joints, pizza slices and sugary treats. A heart-healthy diet features veggies and fruits, whole grains such as brown rice and oats, lean meats such as skinless chicken breasts, baked or broiled fish, plus some fat-free dairy and heart-friendly oils (olive is always a good bet).
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- If you smoke, quit for good. Ask your doctor about ways to make it easier, including medications.
- Work with your doctor on a weight-loss plan if you’re overweight or obese.
Heart Disease Risk Factor #2: Inflammation
Inflammation is an important part of your immune system. It helps heal damaged tissue and fights invaders in your blood, such as the flu virus. However, plaque in your arteries can also set off an inflammatory response. This can irritate your blood vessels, promote the growth of more plaque, and cause weak spots in existing plaque, which makes a rupture more likely.
You can’t see inflammation in the blood the way you can see inflammation on your skin, but you can test for it. One marker of inflammation in the blood is called c-reactive protein, or CRP. A high level of this substance is associated with an increased risk of a future cardiovascular event.
Some people have high levels of inflammation in their bodies due to autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. More often, inflammation is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Whatever the cause of your inflammation, dietary changes can almost always help – especially if you start following a Mediterranean-style diet. In one major study comparing a Mediterranean diet (supplemented with additional olive oil and nuts) with a low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet proved much better for heart health: It led to a significant reduction cardiovascular events in more than 7,500 high-risk patients.
Heart Disease Risk factor #3: Smoking
If you’re among the roughly 38 million adults in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes, you already know that you shouldn’t. Doctors, family and friends have probably all asked you to quit – and for good reason. Smoking is the top cause of preventable disease and death in America.
It’s also a very tough habit to kick because nicotine is a drug, pure and simple. Some research shows it’s as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.
You have a much better chance of quitting successfully with an MDVIP-affiliated physician in your corner. Research shows that the odds of quitting successfully go up when your doctor talks to you for just 10 minutes or less about smoking. Your MDVIP doctor has the freedom to give you much more time than that, as well as prescription medications that can help you quit.
In addition to atherosclerosis, inflammation and smoking, there are several other risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about. These are just a few:
- High blood pressure
- Poor dental health
Many people have several risk factors for coronary artery disease, and tackling them all at once can be stressful. Partner with your primary care physician to tackle each one in order of priority, and be sure to walk away with tools and support to make lasting change.
If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you to develop a wellness plan that can help you focus on preventing or controlling heart disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »