When I see patients at the Northern Nevada Medical Center’s Chest Pain Center, I warn them about the big three heart disease risk factors: high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Each risk factor causes fatty deposits to build up along the walls of arteries. Over time this accumulation causes the arteries to harden and narrow, which restricts blood flow to the heart. The more restricted the blood flow, the less oxygen reaches the heart muscle, and starving the heart muscle of oxygen causes chest pain and eventually a heart attack.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that the body uses. When we consume too much cholesterol from certain foods, however, the excess can accumulate in the walls of your arteries.
Having blood pressure of more than 140 over 90 increases the risk of coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack. High blood pressure increases the force against artery walls, which can damage the arteries over time. The arteries then are more likely to become narrowed and hardened by fatty deposits. Damaged arteries become less able to deliver blood to the heart and to the brain and kidneys, thus increasing the chance of stroke, congestive heart failure and even blindness.
In people with diabetes, high blood glucose levels increase the fatty deposits on blood vessel walls. They have twice as many heart attacks as people who do not have this disease. Heart attacks in people with diabetes also are more serious and more likely to cause death. People with type 2 diabetes usually have other conditions that contribute to heart disease.
Smoking increases risk
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease in ways similar to the top three risk factors. They develop breathing and lung problems, and smoking causes the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. This contributes significantly to deaths from smoking. Added to this risk, smoking raises blood pressure, makes blood more likely to clot and impairs the ability to exercise.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States, so quitting tobacco is one sure step that you can take to reduce your risk of a heart attack. Since you have a 50/50 chance of having one of the other top risk factors, you need to take action against those, too.
Learn your risks
I advise patients that they first need to know whether they have one or more of these risk factors. Speak with your physician and have him or her check you for these conditions at least within these periods:
• Cholesterol every five years
• Blood pressure every two years
• Diabetes every three years after age 45
Your own risk factors might require that you have these tests more frequently. If you feel you might be at risk for heart disease, check out NNMC’s online heart risk assessment at http://healthinfo.northernnvmed.com/Conditions/Heart/Tools/Assessments.
Once you know your risks, create a plan with your physician to control your risks. Aim for these measures:
• LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, of less than 100 mg/dL
• HDL, or “good” cholesterol, of 60 mg/dL or higher
• Triglycerides of less than 150 mg/dL
• Blood pressure of 120 over 80 or lower
These healthy habits can help you reduce all three risk factors and prevent heart disease.
Maintain a normal body weight: Shedding extra pounds can keep your good cholesterol up and lower your bad cholesterol. To reduce complications from high blood pressure, lose 7 to 10 percent of your body weight. To reduce the risk for diabetes, lose 5 to 7 percent of your body weight.
Make exercise part of your routine: If you exercise five times per week for 30 minutes per session, you can help maintain a healthy weight, lower your LDL, raise your HDL, reduce your blood pressure and help prevent diabetes.
Eat a healthy diet: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Buy whole grain cereals and breads. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Select lean meats, such as sirloin or pork loin.
To reduce your risk of high blood pressure and improve your health in general, quit smoking and drink alcohol only moderately.
If you have heart disease, you can find help from the specialists at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Northern Nevada Medical Center. For more information call 356-NNMC.
Thomas DaVee, MD, is the Medical Director for the Chest Pain Center at Northern Nevada Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin and his residency in internal medicine at the University of Colorado. Dr. DaVee completed his cardiology fellowship at San Diego Naval Hospital and is board certified in cardiology.