What Is Heart Disease

"Heart disease" describes several health problems that relate to the heart and blood vessels. Heart attacks and strokes may come to your mind first. However, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), poor circulation, and abnormal heartbeats are among the other forms of heart disease.

Heart Disease: Are You at Risk?

What increases your risk for heart disease or high blood cholesterol levels? Two risk factors aren't within your control: age and genetic tendency. Yet many other risk factors are. Do any apply to you? Risk factors you can't control:

  • Family history of early heart disease (father or brother with heart disease before age fifty-five; mother or sister, before age sixty-five). African Americans, who are more likely to have high blood pressure, are at higher risk. So are Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans.
  • Getting older (men over age forty-five; women over age fifty-five). Before menopause, women usually have lower cholesterol than men their age; after menopause, women's LDL cholesterol often rises.

Major risk factors that affect LDLs:

  • Cigarette smoking, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease. Cigar and pipe smoking, as well as secondhand smoke, are risk factors, too.
  • High blood pressure, which causes the heart to work harder and so enlarge and weaken. (High blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or on blood pressure medication.)
  • Low HDL (less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dl for women)

Other risk factors:

  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Overweight and obesity, especially with excess abdominal fat. The excess puts strain on the heart, raises blood pressure, raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers the HDL cholesterol level.
  • Diabetes, even if under control. People with diabetes have an especially high risk of dying from a heart attack.
  • Too much alcohol intake, which can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure, and lead to a stroke. And it can contribute to high triglycerides and irregular heartbeat.
Your Heart and Nutrition

Your Heart and Nutrition

Prevention is better than a cure. Learn how to cherish your heart by taking the necessary means to keep it pumping healthily and steadily through your life.

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