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Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. The National Institutes of Health tells us that the most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. This happens over time — beginning in our youth — and is the major cause of heart attacks.

Other problems can occur with the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and heart failure can develop. Some people are born with heart disease, although this actually represents a small percentage of the problem.

The best news is that we can reduce our risk of heart attack by understanding and preventing factors that contribute to heart disease. While some of these risks are beyond our control, many are not. We at Beebe Healthcare would like to share with you the list of risk factors that have been compiled by the American Heart Association and to support you in your effort to prevent heart disease. We encourage you to have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels checked, as well as your blood sugar, and to visit a physician to make sure you are not at risk for heart disease. Learn more about Beebe's Cardiac Surgery Team.

Heart Attack Risk Factors

Factors we cannot change:

Increasing age and menopause — Over 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. Women's risk increase after menopause. Heredity (including Race) — Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Factors we can control:

  • Tobacco smoke — We know that smokers' risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2–4 times that of non-smokers. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of heart disease, even for non-smokers. Beebe Healthcare advises against the use of tobacco. The State of Delaware offers a smoking cessation program to state residents. Call the Delaware Quitline at (866) 409-1858.
  • High blood cholesterol — As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity, and diet. The only way you know if you are developing high blood cholesterol is by having a blood test. Beebe Healthcare encourages you to have this test and to consult your physician if test results show that your cholesterol level is elevated.
  • High Blood Cholesterol and High Triglyceride Levels — Cholesterol travels in the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins (LI-po-pro-teens). The two major kinds of lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is sometimes called "bad" cholesterol. This is because it carries cholesterol to tissues, including your heart arteries. HDL cholesterol is sometimes called "good" cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A blood test called a lipoprotein panel is used to measure cholesterol levels. This test gives information about your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood). Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. A woman's risk for CHD increases if she has a total cholesterol level greater than 200 mg/dL, an LDL cholesterol level greater than 100 mg/dL, or an HDL cholesterol level less than 50 mg/dL. A triglyceride level greater than 150 mg/dL also increases a woman's risk for CHD. A woman's HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels predict her risk for CHD better than her total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Physical inactivity — An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people. There are many opportunities to increase your level of activity, including joining a local fitness center or beginning a walking program in your neighborhood. Be sure to consult a physician before you start any exercise program if you have been sedentary or if you are at risk for heart disease.
  • Obesity and weight issues — People who have excess body fat, especially if a lot of it is at the waist, are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. It can also increase the risk of diabetes. We all know how difficult it is to lose weight. Beebe Healthcare offers consultations with a registered dietitian as an outpatient service through its Diabetes Management program by calling (302) 947-2500. If you have struggled for a long time with your weight and have been unsuccessful in traditional weight-loss programs, Beebe, in conjunction with Delmarva Bariatric Center, offers surgical options combined with a diet and exercise program. For more information, contact Beebe at (302) 645-3100, ext. 5410, or Delmarva Bariatric Center at (302) 360-0277.
  • Diabetes — Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control other risk factors. Beebe Healthcare offers a Diabetes Education program. Call Diabetes Management at (302) 947-2500. A physician's referral is required, but please call for information.

There's more that we can control:

  • Individual response to stress may be a contributing factor. Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress, health behaviors, and socioeconomic status.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure, and lead to stroke. It can contribute to high triglycerides, cancer and other diseases, and produce irregular heartbeats. It contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide, and accidents.

The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) has been shown to be lower than in non-drinkers. One drink is defined as 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl. oz.) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 1 fl. oz. of 100-proof spirits, 4 fl. oz. of wine, or 12 fl. oz. of beer. It is not recommended that non-drinkers start using alcohol or that drinkers increase the amount they drink.

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Source: American Heart Association & National Institutes of Health