How to Modify Your Risk for Heart Disease

How to Modify Your Risk for Heart Disease

How to Modify Your Risk for Heart Disease

An open letter from Dr. Kevin on the risk of heart disease and it’s contributing factors.

It was Labor Day, September 7, 1981, the day my father passed away. He was 55 years young, playing volleyball with his seven children while his only grandchild watched from the sideline. He fell to his knees with a clenched fist to his chest and passed away despite every effort to revive him.

We could only assume that my father’s sudden death was a opens in a new windowheart attack due to underlying heart disease.

I was in my youth at the time, yet it was evident to me that my father had many of the risk factors for heart disease such as smoking and a high stress job. Little did I realize that his sedentary life style and high calorie diet would lead to central obesity, which alone is a major risk factor for heart disease. It was decades of this life style that lead to my father’s premature death.

In the years since his death, we have gained a better understanding of what causes strokes and heart attacks. Expensive interventions such as heart catheterizations and bypass surgery have resulted in a decline in the heart disease deaths. Despite this wealth of knowledge, we still spend over 300 billion dollars a year treating heart disease rather then preventing it from happening in the first place.

As physicians spend a great deal of time and effort educating our patients on how to reduce risk factors. Although there are factors that cannot be changed, such as the aging process and a family history, the following is a list of changeable factors and ways to slow down the disease process:

Smoking & Nicotine Use: Quitting smoking and the use of nicotine will have an immediate benefit on your heart and lungs, not to mention your pocket book.

  • There is evidence that nicotine directly affects the arteries by damaging their lining, accelerating atherosclerosis.
  • Smoking raises your pulse and blood pressure, making more work for your heart.
  • Blood clots more easily and arteries constrict.
  • Your heart muscle is more likely to have rhythm irregularities.

Blood Pressure: Higher pressure means more work for your heart and damage to the lining of arteries.

  • You are at higher risk for heart disease if your blood pressure is greater than 135/90.
  • If you are prescribed blood pressure medications, continue to take them, lose weight, reduce your salt and alcohol intake, and get regular exercise.

Cholesterol: Higher cholesterol in the blood causes a faster build-up in the artery.

  • A cholesterol greater than 200 and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol of less than 45 places you at a higher risk for heart disease.
  • Most physicians would like to see their patients have a total cholesterol of less than 200, triglycerides of less than 150, HDL greater than 45 and a Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol of less then 100.

Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes greatly increases risk.

  • Some people become diabetic because they are overweight and inactive.
  • Weight loss and exercise can increase your body’s ability to use insulin and glucose, causing some forms of adult onset diabetes to disappear.

Weight: More weight means more work for your heart and may lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.

  • Reducing your total calorie intake and increasing your daily activity level may help you lose the weight, lower your blood pressure and prevent you from becoming a diabetic.

Stress: Negative thoughts and responses to stressful situations burden the heart with more work and make it susceptible to life-threatening rhythm irregularities.

Activity: An inactive lifestyle at home or work increases your risk of heart disease.

  • Begin and maintain a program of regular aerobic exercise.
  • Walk more, use the stairs, and park your car in the farthest space in the lot.
  • You will be amazed at the health benefits of an active lifestyle and you may reduce your risk of a heart attack by as much as 50 percent.

opens in a new windowKevin J. Weiland, MD FACP
Internists at Rapid City Medical Center
Author: The Dakota Diet, Basic Health Publications 2007

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