You can prevent and control coronary heart disease (CHD) by taking action to control your risk factors with heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medicines. Examples of risk factors you can control include high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and overweight and obesity. Only a few risk factors—such as age, gender, and family history—can’t be controlled.
Your risk for CHD increases with the number of risk factors you have. To reduce your risk of CHD and heart attack, try to control each risk factor you have by adopting the following heart-healthy lifestyles:
- Heart-healthy eating
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing stress
- Physical activity
- Quitting smoking
Know your family history of health problems related to CHD. If you or someone in your family has CHD, be sure to tell your doctor. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, you also may need medicines to control your CHD risk factors.
Here’s what you can do to reduce the risk of a major disability or even death:
- Do not smoke or use any tobacco products
- Adopt healthy eating habits
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Keep your cholesterol levels under control
- If you are diabetic, control your blood sugar level
- Reduce stress
- Communicate your family health history to your doctor, particularly if a blood relative had poor circulation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease
Get regular physical examinations from your doctor
Cardiovascular disease is a serious and unremitting problem in the United States and the world. Screening individuals with risk factors (such as elevated age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history, diabetes, and smoking) may be useful to identify people with undiagnosed disease who could then benefit from lifestyle changes, medications, and a variety of treatment options.
More research needs to be done to define those most likely to benefit, but earlier identification of disease may improve health outcomes. Importantly, screening provides an educational opportunity that can happen in many settings: the hospital, family physician’s office, health fairs, and community settings. The focus should be on accessibility and evidence-based application of findings, so those at risk can benefit.
A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails. Brain cells can die from decreased blood flow and the resulting lack of oxygen. There are two broad categories of stroke: those caused by a blockage of blood flow and those caused by bleeding into the brain. A blockage of a blood vessel in the brain or neck, called an ischemic stroke, is the most frequent cause of stroke and is responsible for about 80 percent of strokes. These blockages stem from three conditions: the formation of a clot within a blood vessel of the brain or neck, called thrombosis; the movement of a clot from another part of the body such as the heart to the brain, called embolism; or a severe narrowing of an artery in or leading to the brain, called stenosis. Bleeding into the brain or the spaces surrounding the brain causes the second type of stroke, called hemorrhagic stroke.
Two key steps you can take will lower your risk of death or disability from stroke: control stroke’s risk factors and know stroke’s warning signs. Scientific research conducted by the NINDS has identified warning signs and a large number of risk factors.
A risk factor is a condition or behavior that occurs more frequently in those who have, or are at greater risk of getting, a disease than in those who don’t. Having a risk factor for stroke doesn’t mean you’ll have a stroke. On the other hand, not having a risk factor doesn’t mean you’ll avoid a stroke. But your risk of stroke grows as the number and severity of risk factors increases.
Some factors for stroke can’t be modified by medical treatment or lifestyle changes.
- Age. Stroke occurs in all age groups. Studies show the risk of stroke doubles for each decade between the ages of 55 and 85. But strokes also can occur in childhood or adolescence. Although stroke is often considered a disease of aging, the risk of stroke in childhood is actually highest during the perinatal period, which encompasses the last few months of fetal life and the first few weeks after birth.
- Gender. Men have a higher risk for stroke, but more women die from stroke. Men generally do not live as long as women, so men are usually younger when they have their strokes and therefore have a higher rate of survival.
- Race. People from certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of stroke. For African Americans, stroke is more common and more deadly—even in young and middle-aged adults—than for any ethnic or other racial group in the United States. Studies show that the age-adjusted incidence of stroke is about twice as high in African Americans and Hispanic Americans as in Caucasians. An important risk factor for African-Americans is sickle cell disease, which can cause a narrowing of arteries and disrupt blood flow. The incidence of the various stroke subtypes also varies considerably in different ethnic groups.
Family history of stroke. Stroke seems to run in some families. Several factors may contribute to familial stroke. Members of a family might have a genetic tendency for stroke risk factors, such as an inherited predisposition for high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes. The influence of a common lifestyle among family members also could contribute to familial stroke.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood and stick to the walls of your arteries. This is called plaque. Plaque can narrow your arteries or even block them.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart disease. Your cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older. There are usually no signs or symptoms that you have high blood cholesterol, but it can be detected with a blood test. You are likely to have high cholesterol if members of your family have it, if you are overweight or if you eat a lot of fatty foods.
You can lower your cholesterol by exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables. You also may need to take medicine to lower your cholesterol.
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. A reading of
- 119/79 or lower is normal blood pressure
- 140/90 or higher is high blood pressure
- Between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number is called prehypertension. Prehypertension means you may end up with high blood pressure, unless you take steps to prevent it.
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, but it can cause serious problems such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure.
You can control high blood pressure through healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise and the DASH diet and taking medicines, if needed.
Many factors affect your health. Some you cannot control, such as your genetic makeup or your age. But you can make changes to your lifestyle. By taking these steps toward healthy living, you can help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and other serious diseases:
- Get the screening tests you need
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a variety of healthy foods, and limit calories and saturated fat
- Be physically active
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Don’t smoke
- Protect yourself from too much sun
- Drink alcohol in moderation, or don’t drink at all
Prevention Through Diet
A plant based diet has been shown to help prevent and reverse the effects of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, and obesity.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to getting started. First, don’t think of this as a deprivation diet. The food is delicious, and you can enjoy plant-based versions of the foods you already love. Focus on the positives!
Once you get started, it’ll be easier to keep going. As Dr. Craig McDougall says, “Once you have more energy, have lost some weight, or your stomach pain has disappeared, then it’s easier to continue eating healthfully. One of the best motivators for people transitioning to plant-based eating comes from how great they feel and how much more than can do in their lives once they’re feeling healthier.”
What to Eat on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.
We have compiled a list of informative websites to help you find out more about common heart health issues.
It is important that you refer to reputable sites like these when you are browsing the Internet for information pertaining to your health to avoid websites with misleading or inaccurate content.
This site offers education on medications, diet and health conditions.
American Heart Association – Oklahoma City
This site offers local resources on education and programming.
American Stroke Association
Intervascular Cardiovascular Library http://watchlearnlive.heart.org/CVML_Player.php
A library of AHA Interactive videos.
The American College of Cardiology is a leader in the formulation of health policy, standards and guidelines, and is a staunch supporter of cardiovascular research.
The eMedicine point-of-care clinical reference features up-to-date, searchable, peer-reviewed medical articles organized in specialty-focused textbooks, and is continuously updated with practice-changing evidence culled daily from the medical literature.
WebMD provides credible health information, a supportive community and educational services by blending award-winning expertise in content, community services, expert commentary, and medical review.