Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Assessing Your Risk
Know your risk
Heart disease is the leading cause of death
among middle-aged and older men and among women over age 60. Risk factors for
heart disease include:
- Family history
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Inactivity and poor diet
- Excess weight
- Other health problems (such as diabetes)
Take a moment to look at your
lifestyle, family history and general health. With this information, you and
your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to tackle potential
Men over age 45 and women over age 55 are at
greater risk for heart disease. Although you can't do much about your age, you
can affect many of the other risk factors listed below.
You can't change your family history. So why
worry about it? Because it is important for you to know what "runs in the
family" and to tell your doctor. Talk to your parents, grandparents, siblings,
aunts and uncles about who has had a heart attack, stroke or other serious
health problem. With this information, your doctor can recommend screening tests
and preventive treatments as appropriate.
If you don't know your cholesterol level, ask
your doctor if it should be checked. To reduce (and prevent) a high cholesterol
level, limit how much cholesterol and fat you eat, and exercise regularly. Some
people with high cholesterol levels may also need to take medicine to keep their
levels under control.
If your blood pressure is high, losing weight,
exercising, not smoking and, in some people, cutting down on sodium (salt) and
alcohol will help. Some people may also need to take medicine to control their
Quitting is the single best change you can make
for your health. Talk to your family doctor about how to quit and stay
tobacco-free. If you live with a smoker, breathing their smoke can also affect
your health. Encourage the other person to quit.
A diet high in fat and cholesterol has been
linked with heart disease (and many other health problems). Fat and cholesterol
can harden and clog your arteries. A healthy diet is high in fiber and low in
fat. Each day, try to eat:
- 6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and
- 2 to 4 servings of fresh fruit and three to five
servings of fresh or frozen vegetables.
- 2 to 3 servings of non-fat (skim) milk, low-fat
yogurt and low-fat or non-fat cheese.
- 2 to 3 servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, dry
beans and egg whites.
addition, use butter, margarine and cooking oils sparingly. You may also need to
avoid foods high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Sodium is found
in table salt and some prepared foods, especially canned foods.
Although some research suggests alcohol can help
protect against heart disease, moderation is the key. Limit how much you drink.
This means no more than one or two drinks a day.
Being overweight puts extra strain on your heart
and blood vessels. A high-fiber, low-fat diet and regular exercise can help you
lose weight gradually and keep it off. Talk to your doctor about safe ways to
Exercise can help prevent heart disease and many
other health problems. You'll also feel better and help keep your weight under
control if you exercise regularly. If you haven't exercised for a while or have
health problems, talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. How
much should you exercise? Four to six times a week is a good goal, but any
amount is better than none.
Health problems such as diabetes can contribute
to heart disease. Talk to your family doctor for individual