About half the deaths from heart and vascular disease in the U.S. could be prevented, says a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. All it takes is eliminating five preventable risk factors linked to the disease. But that’s easier said than done.
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“We can tell people they have risks, but on an individual basis people have to decide whether they are willing to change those risks,” says David Frid, MD, a specialist in preventive cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.
Causing one in four U.S. deaths
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Over 600,000 people die from it each year – one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While healthcare providers have made great improvements in treating (and saving) people having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event, more needs to be done to prevent these conditions.
“In prevention, we probably haven’t done as well as we should,” says Dr. Frid. “We have a ways to go.”
More aggressive state policies and programs may help motivate people to live heart-healthier. Since the 1960s we’ve seen the positive effects of tobacco regulation, healthier school lunches and trans-fat awareness. But ultimately, making heart-healthy choices is still up to each individual.
How to protect yourself from heart disease
Here are heart disease’s top five preventable risk factors and the steps you can take to offset them:
- High cholesterol. Excess LDL cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in your arteries, pinching off the flow of blood to your heart or brain. To help reduce the cholesterol in your blood, eat fewer fats and fried foods. Choose fish and poultry more often than red meat. Choose non-fat and low-fat versions of foods, and eat more fiber.
- Diabetes. If you have higher-than-normal blood sugar (pre-diabetes), take steps to manage your weight. Adjusting your diet and physical activity may help delay or prevent diabetes.
- High blood pressure. You can control blood pressure through dietary changes such as the DASH eating plan or reduced salt intake, exercise, weight management and, if needed, medication.
- Obesity. If your body mass index is greater than 30, it’s time to make a change in your diet and physical activity. Develop a structured treatment plan with your doctor and/or dietitian and get proper follow-up.
- Smoking. The longer you smoke, the higher your risk of heart attack. But it’s never too late to quit as benefits can be seen within months. Your doctor can help you decide which smoking cessation method will work best for you.
Eliminating any one of these risk factors can potentially stop you from getting heart disease. And eliminating one sometimes helps eliminate others.
You don’t have to do it alone. See your doctor for help.