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Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It will claim the lives of nearly 2 out of 5 people you know. So, even if you have not yet been diagnosed with heart disease, it is essential for you to assess your personal risk level and take preventive steps to control your risk factors.

Assessing Your Risk

  • You'll need to know your most recent blood pressure and cholesterol levels in order to calculate your risk. If you haven't had your blood pressure or cholesterol checked recently, talk to your doctor.
  • Once you have your blood pressure and cholesterol readings, take this online risk assessment from the American Heart Association.

Controlling Your Risk Factors

There are many risk factors associated with heart disease. Some you can control and others you can't. Once you have determined your risk factors, read on to find out what you should do to minimize your risk of a cardiac event.

Risk factors you can't control:

Age

  • The risk of heart disease increases with age. About four out of five people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
  • However, the current national trends show that Americans are developing heart disease at a younger and younger age.

Gender

  • Men have a higher risk of heart disease than women and are more likely to have heart attacks at an earlier age.
  • However, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in women, and because women may experience different symptoms than men, they may be less likely to recognize heart disease and seek proper treatment. Learn more about heart disease in women.

Heredity (including race)

  • If your parents, grandparents or siblings had heart disease, you are more likely to develop it yourself. 
    Certain groups of people also have a higher risk of heart disease, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans.

Although you can't control these factors, you should be aware of them and discuss them with your doctor.  Knowing that you are at higher risk makes it even more important to control the other risk factors and to watch closely for symptoms.

Your doctor may also recommend more frequent monitoring, lifestyle changes or diagnostic tests, based on your age, symptoms and risk factors.

Risk factors you can control:

Smoking

  • Your risk of heart attack is two to four times as high if you smoke.
  • Even if you are not a smoker, exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to decrease your risk is to quit. Programs to help you quit are available in Alma through MidMichigan Health or in other areas through the American Cancer Society.

High Cholesterol

  • In general, the higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk of coronary heart disease.
  • The ratio between your LDL and HDL levels (high- and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) is also important.
  • You should get your cholesterol checked on a periodic basis and discuss the results with your doctor.
  • MidMichigan offers periodic low cost screenings and also has outpatient laboratories in multiple convenient locations that will perform this test with a doctor's order.
    If your cholesterol is high, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or medications.

High Blood Pressure

  • High blood pressure puts greater strain on the cardiovascular system, which increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
  • You should have your blood pressure checked during regular doctor visits.  MidMichigan also offers blood pressure clinics.
  • If your blood pressure is high, your doctor may recommend dietary changes, medications or other lifestyle changes, such as exercise and stress management, to bring your blood pressure under control.

Physical Inactivity and Overweight

  • A healthy diet and regular exercise help prevent heart and vascular disease; control your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight; and lower your risk of many other diseases and conditions, including diabetes.
  • MidMichigan cardiac experts have compiled a list of recommended books, including cookbooks, to help you eat a heart-smart diet.
  • You may also want to consult a nutrition specialist to discuss a diet specially tailored for your needs.
  • MidMichigan offers a variety of diet and exercise classes.
  • If you are at a high risk, your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation or another fitness program.

Diabetes

  • Diabetes significantly increases your risk for heart disease, and the risks are even greater if your blood sugar levels are not under control.
  • According to the American Heart Association, "about three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease."
  • If you have diabetes, work with your doctor and/or diabetes educator to create a care plan that is right for you and then follow your plan to keep blood sugar levels under control. For more information about diagnosing and managing diabetes, visit our Diabetes page.
  • You should also work extra hard to control or eliminate the other risk factors, since diabetes already poses such a significant risk.

Stress

  • Some studies suggest a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress.
  • Stress may also impact other risk factors. For example, some people turn to cigarettes, alcohol or eating as a way to deal with stress.
  • To lower your stress in a healthier way, try exercise; time management and organization techniques; relaxation techniques such as meditation, massage or listening to music; or talking to a trusted friend or counselor. Your doctor can also recommend specific methods to help you manage stress.

Alcohol

  • Excessive use of alcohol can raise your blood pressure and lead to heart failure or stroke, in addition to contributing to other diseases.
  • If you need help regarding alcohol, ask your doctor for a referral to a substance abuse program, or contact your local Alcoholics Anonymous group.