February is American Heart Month and a good time to think about the health of our hearts. Heart disease is still the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States. Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the most common type of heart disease. Every year about 785,000 Americans have their first heart attack and another 470,000, who have previously had a heart attack, have another one.
There are conditions and lifestyle factors that put people at higher risk of developing heart disease. There are some risk factors that cannot be changed, treated or modified. These include increasing age, heredity, race and gender. However there are other risk factors that can be changed, treated or modified and, by doing so, reduce your risk for heart disease. These risk factors include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol levels, tobacco use and exposure, physical inactivity, and overweight/obesity. The first step in reducing your risk is to know your risk factors and then take steps to treat or eliminate them.
High blood pressure or hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure readings are greater than or equal to 140/90. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. The optimal level for total cholesterol is less than 200. The goal for LDL, or bad, cholesterol varies depending on your overall risk. Your physician can help you determine what your optimal goal is. Studies have shown that in people without heart disease, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. In people with heart disease, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure can reduce the risk of having a heart attack, dying from a heart attack or requiring heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a normal body weight, and taking medications, when needed, can help achieve these goals.
People with diabetes mellitus are at particularly high risk of developing cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke, heart failure and peripheral arterial disease. The optimal fasting blood glucose, or blood sugar, level is less than 100. Diabetes is diagnosed when fasting blood glucose is greater than or equal to 126. Losing weight, eating healthy, and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in some people. Once someone is diagnosed with diabetes, it is important that they work closely with their physician and healthcare team to keep their blood glucose under optimal control since this may reduce their risk of complications, including heart disease. CMC-Lincoln has advanced inpatient diabetes certification. Free outpatient classes are offered by the CMC-Lincoln Diabetic Services every month in Lincolnton and Denver. For more information, please contact 980-212-6037.
Living a healthy lifestyle is something that we all can and should be doing to reduce our risk of heart disease as well as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and high cholesterol. Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in salt, saturated fats and cholesterol is recommended. At least 150 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended each week. Both of these can help with attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight relative to height and should be less than 25. There is a BMI calculator on the www.heart.org website under â€œGetting Healthy/Weight Managementâ€. Being overweight or obese may increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. All cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke should be avoided.
More information about heart disease and preventing heart disease can be found online at www.heart.org, which the website for the American Heart Association, and www.cdc.gov/heartdisease .
Dr. Karen G. Cloninger works with the Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute at Carolinas Medical Center-Lincolnton.