Heart disease is the biggest killer among men and women over 50 years of age in this country. In the face of this devastating disease, a common question from patients and their families is, “What can I or should I do differently?” Based upon years of ongoing research the medical profession has identified and focuses on the following greatest risk factors for heart disease: tobacco use, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of heart disease, age, and male gender.
A good time to talk about these issues is at your recommended annual physical. Each of these topics should be discussed face-to-face and at length with your medical provider. You may be asked to obtain some baseline lab testing or more current tests if you have a history of risk factors. This will allow your medical provider to talk more specifically about problem areas that need addressed.
Two important risk factors that should be checked also include your cholesterol and blood pressure. Cholesterol should be checked every five years starting at age 30; sooner if you have a personal or family history of high cholesterol. Cholesterol goals will vary based on your risk factors, but research has shown a low percentage of patients are actually at a recommended healthy level. There are three components to consider with cholesterol: High-Density Lipid (HDL) or good cholesterol, Low-Density Lipids (LDL) the bad cholesterol, and Triglycerides (TG) that can also be damaging to vessels and circulation. An excess of these fatty deposits can lead to heart disease and shorter life span.
The other important factor, high blood pressure, is often called the silent killer and it should be monitored. Most people do not feel their high blood pressure until it has caused irreversible damage. It can cause heart, brain, and kidney disease as well as other circulation problems. For this reason it should be routinely checked at medical office visits. Recommended blood pressure goals vary with your risk factors. Regular exercise, watching your weight, and avoiding too much salt will help control it in a normal range. If this fails there are many medications that can also assist in control of your pressure.
Obviously some primary risk factors do not lend themselves to control such as being male, family history, or your age. However, most of the risk factors can be modified or at least monitored so that your risk of heart disease can be diminished. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and ultimately we all decide our priorities with that time. To the extent we control these cardiac risk factors most can avoid a heart attack for many years to come.
Since February is American Heart Month try and make it a point this month to go see your doctor and get your risk factors checked and controlled before heart disease harms you or someone you love. For more questions about your heart disease risk or to schedule an annual physical, please call us for any appointment at the Power County Family Clinic or Aberdeen Family Clinic at 226-1057.