Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death for adults in the United States. But what causes it and how do you know your risk?
A. Vincent Songco, MD, a cardiologist with ProMedica Physicians, explains that coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries around your heart. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and calcium. It can block blood flow to the heart muscle causing chest pain. Plaque can form in your arteries early in life and can worsen or improve depending on your lifestyle.
Traditional risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
“Fortunately, many of these risk factors can be decreased through lifestyle modifications,” says Dr. Songco. “If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your main goal is to keep your number(s) within normal limits. If you are having trouble, your physician may prescribe medications.”
Family history also plays an important role in your risk of heart disease. Your risk increases if you have a father or brother diagnosed before 55, or a mother or sister diagnosed before 65. Unfortunately, you cannot change your family history, but you can control your other risk factors.
According to Dr. Songco, “Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco can improve your overall heart health.”