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Put Your Heart Into It

Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., but each one of us has the power to stop this killer in its tracks.

“Reducing the risk factors associated with heart disease can dramatically reduce an individual’s risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event,” said John Nan M.D., interventional cardiologist with the Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute at Hoag. “Some risk factors are not in our control, such as our age and our family history. But our lifestyles have a significant impact on our risk.”

Dr. Nan warns that there are a few risk factors to keep in mind when it comes to heart disease:

Blood Pressure. When the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high, it can affect your heart and other major organs, including your kidneys and brain. “Chronic high blood pressure should be managed with the help of your doctor,” Dr. Nan said. Safe and effective medications and medical options exist to help. And patients can take matters into their own hands by exercising more, quitting smoking, reducing stress and switching to a heart-healthy diet that is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein, while low in saturated fat and salt.

Cholesterol. You’ve probably heard of “good cholesterol” versus “bad cholesterol.” What you may not have heard is that too many of us have high levels of the bad kind, lining the walls of our arteries and obstructing the flow of blood to the heart and the rest of the body. Getting regular checkups to monitor your blood cholesterol levels will give you some insight into what could be going on inside your arteries. “Many patients are able to control their cholesterol levels through lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, smoking cessation and improving their diet,” Dr. Nan said. “For patients who require medication to control cholesterol, lifestyle changes can improve their health enough that they can lower their medication doses.” Work with your doctor to improve your health.

Keep Prediabetes and Diabetes in Check. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. That is why adults with prediabetes and diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease. But managing your diabetes can go a long way to reducing your risk. “Often diabetes goes hand-in-hand with heart disease,” Dr. Nan said.

“Hoag’s cardiology team works closely with the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag to create a personalized, comprehensive plan for managing diabetes and reducing heart disease risk,” said David Ahn, M.D., chief of Diabetes Services at Hoag and Dr. Kris V. Iyer, Endowed Chair in Diabetes Care.

Lower Weight to Lower Risk. Body mass index (BMI), or your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters, is used to determine obesity. If your BMI is 30 or greater, you are considered to have obesity, which can lead to the other heart disease risk factors – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. “Studies have found that for every five-point increase in BMI, the risk of heart failure rose by 32 percent,” Dr. Nan said. “Diet and exercise alone might not be enough to reverse obesity and reduce the associated health risks. It could be important for a person experiencing obesity to work with their doctor to lower their weight and lower their risks.”

Want to learn more about your individual risk for heart disease – and how to reduce it?

Talk with your primary care physician or take Hoag’s free online Heart Health Assessment to find out your personal risk of heart disease.