In addition to St. Valentine, February helps to remind us of other things that impact the heart. Multiple factors can influence your risk of heart disease that include several health conditions, your lifestyle, age and family history. It is important to know your risk factors as some can be changed, others cannot. As heart disease is still the number one killer of both men and women in the US, these are issues that should truly be taken to heart.
According to the Center for Disease Control, almost half of the US population have at least one of three main risk factors of cardiovascular disease: high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and smoking. High blood pressure can silently damage the heart, kidneys and brain among other systems over time. When the damage comes, its first symptom will usually be a heart attack, kidney failure or stroke. As there are rarely any physical complaints associated with untreated hypertension, the only way to determine the problem is to check your blood pressure. If elevated, treatments may include lifestyle changes as well as medication.
Cholesterol is a natural substance in the body, but with elevated levels may cause deposits in the blood vessels over time. As these plaques occur, circulation can be compromised to organ systems, again leading to damage to brain, heart and kidneys. And again, its first symptom may present as a stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. The two major cholesterol subgroups include HDL (good cholesterol), the higher the better, and LDL (bad cholesterol), better lower. Depending on risk factors, the goals for the cholesterol components may vary among individuals. A simple blood test can determine your values and imply your risk.
Smoking is well known to increase the negative effects of both hypertension and hyperlipidemia. The effects of nicotine, either smoking or vaping, will further heighten blood vessel resistance, contributing to worsening hypertension and vascular damage. High cholesterol will be adversely affected by further lowering HDL, further increasing plaque formation.
Diabetes will compound the likelihood of cardiovascular death. Management of diabetes is critical to decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The impact of obesity further worsens adverse cholesterol and elevates blood pressure. Poor dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol intake and uncontrolled anger or stress all are additional contributors as risk factors. As difficult as it may be, however, all of these risks can be modified and improved with lifestyle and medical intervention.
Some risk factors can’t be changed including family history (following genetic blueprints), age (risk increases with age), gender (males more likely than females, but the odds equilibrate after menopause), and race (African American, Native American and Hispanic American are at higher risk than Caucasian). Even though these risks cannot be changed, the spectrum and contribution of the additional treatable risks can be addressed and monitored over time to improve the outcomes and minimize the cardiovascular consequences. If you are not aware if you have any of these risk factors, this would be the month to visit with your primary care provider for screening. If you do have any of these risk factors, this would be the month to visit with your primary care provider for treatment. Take it to heart.
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine