In the United States, a stroke occurs every 45 seconds—and a heart attack every half minute. In fact, cardiovascular diseases—which affect the heart and blood vessels—are the leading causes of death for both men and women around the world.
"Many people think heart disease is inevitable if you live long enough," says Jagat Narula, M.D., medical director of the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial. "But cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke, are often preventable. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chances of heart attack. The key is to do everything possible to reduce your risk."
Some risk factors such as age, sex, family history and ethnicity can't be changed. However, you can protect your cardiovascular health by managing, preventing or treating the risk factors you can control. Here's how:
Tobacco use is one of the most important risk factors you can change. Smoking damages your arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart and brain, which leads to stroke and heart disease. If you've tried—and failed— to stop smoking in the past, talk to your doctor. Newer, more effective programs and medications can make quitting easier. We can help you quit.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease. The condition can be controlled to some extent with weight loss, exercise, stress management and diet. When these aren't enough, medication can help blood pressure return to a healthy range.
Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels
Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition that narrows the arteries leading to the heart, brain and other organs. You can lower your cholesterol by limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. Many people also need medication to control their cholesterol levels.
Excess weight puts you at risk for many health problems, including heart disease and stroke. Modest weight loss— 10 to 20 pounds—can help to lower this risk. Try to reach a healthy weight by exercising regularly and eating smaller portions—not crash dieting.
People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Diabetics often have additional risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Following your diet, controlling your weight and getting regular exercise are essential. So is maintaining normal glucose levels—a process that may require medication if exercise and diet aren't sufficient.
For healthy adults, the American Heart Association recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most days. Exercise plays a major role in improving cardiovascular health by helping to manage obesity, diabetes, stress and high blood pressure.
Heart Attack Prevention Program for You
Through the HAPPY program (Heart Attack Prevention Program for You), the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute can assess your cardiac risk profile. An array of screenings also is available, ranging from stress tests to CT imaging of your coronary arteries.