Are You at Risk for Heart disease?

Provided by: TELUS Health

Heart disease—a major health risk that can have tragic consequences—is considered a leading cause of death globally according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Heart disease includes several problems associated with blockages in your heart and blood vessels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These blockages are due to a process called atherosclerosis in which a hard substance called plaque builds up on arterial walls. This narrows the openings that blood can flow through and, when a blood clot forms in a constricted area, blood flow completely stops thereby causing a heart attack or stroke.

There are several risk factors for heart disease, some of which are beyond your control but it’s important to know that there are many you can take control of.

Heart disease risk factors you cannot change

Age: The older you become, the greater your chances of developing heart disease.

Family history: If your father or brother developed heart disease or experienced a cardiac event before the age of 55, or your mother or sister did before the age of 65, your risk increases even if you have no other risk factors.

Gender: Men are more likely to develop heart disease, but women do see an increased risk level after menopause.

Race and ethnicity: Some studies indicate that race and ethnicity are risk factors in the incidence of heart disease. However, this risk may also suggest social factors, including health disparities experienced by certain racial and ethnic groups. Be sure to get regular checkups and be a strong advocate for yourself when seeking medical guidance and treatment.

Heart disease risk factors you can change

Cholesterol: This may include high total cholesterol, LDL ("bad" cholesterol), or triglycerides, or having low HDL ("good cholesterol"). Your cholesterol levels can all be affected by your age, gender, heredity, smoking, physical activity, and dietary habits.

Blood pressure: New guidelines have determined that having a systolic (top number) above 120 mm Hg, a diastolic (bottom number) above 80 mm Hg, or both can put you at risk.

Physical inactivity: The less active you are, especially if you sit for prolonged periods during the day, the more likely you are to develop heart disease.

Weight: Excess body fat, particularly around the waist, is a powerful risk factor independent of any others.

Diabetes: If you are diabetic, even if your blood sugars are well controlled, you are still at a higher risk for heart disease.

Smoking: This is a strong risk factor on its own but especially dangerous when combined with other risk factors such as diabetes and family history.

Other possible contributors: Some of these risk factors may include high levels of unmanaged stress, use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin, undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea, getting the flu, consuming a diet high in processed meats and saturated or trans fats, and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages or alcohol.

Although there are some risk factors for heart disease that you cannot control, most of them can either be reduced or eliminated with lifestyle change. You and your doctor should design a program that works best for you. It is never too late to start living your heart-healthy life.

This information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician or mental health professional and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health or mental health professional if you have questions about a medical condition or plan of treatment.

This information is provided by Telus Health.