Since 1963, our government, science and medical leaders have marked this
time of year to urge Americans to join the battle against a disease that
takes one of every four lives of men and women in this country. Despite
leading all causes of death and that proven prevention and risk factor
modification show marked success in curbing it, 56 years later -
heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans.
Risk factors fall into only two categories. Those you cannot control, such as your
genetics, gender and race - and those you
can control. Those include:
- Elevated cholesterol
Health experts fingered these heart offenders decades ago, but a recent
study in the
Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the message still isn't reaching the public. Researchers
from Emory University looked at data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance
System (BRFSS) to estimate just how much impact those five controllable
risk factors had on managing cardiovascular disease. Those researchers
determined that if we got rid of the "foul five" the number
of heart disease deaths would be cut almost in half. To put that number
in perspective, it would amount to more than 300,000 lives each year.
Realistically, that probably won't happen any time soon. It hasn't
for decades. But, there has been progress, and hope for those who struggle
with, or remain in denial about how much control they actually have in
their own heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) believes
80 percent of heart attacks and strokes are preventable and that starts
with an honest understanding of your individual risk and half of everyone
reading this has at least one major risk factor for cardiovascular disease,
which may include a factor out of your control:
- Gender: The majority of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65
or older - and are men, but at older ages, women who have heart attacks
are more likely than men to die from them within a few weeks.
- Heredity: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop
- Race: African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians
and some Asian Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians
and a higher risk of heart disease. This is partly due to higher rates
of obesity and diabetes.
By age 40, you should be well aware of your family history and other heart
disease risk factors and assess your risk score with your doctor every
five years. That assessment should occur more often if your risk factors
are high or change.
Know your height, weight and waist circumference. Your waistline may be
indicative of metabolic syndrome, which is another distinct risk factor.
Know and monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels (total, LDL,
HDL and triglycerides), and your blood sugar levels. Your doctor can provide
these tests if you haven't already had them.
The AHA also provides further risk assessment using a scoring system from
a study known as the Framingham Heart Study to assess your risk of dying
of coronary heart disease in the next 10 years. Designed to identify genetic
and environmental factors influencing the development of cardiovascular
and other diseases, it may be one of the most important ongoing public
health studies in American medical history and can be found at the AHA website
In an effort to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes, The Health
and Human Services department (HHS) "Million Hearts" campaign
asks Americans to make healthy choices, by avoiding tobacco and reducing
red meat and sodium intake, as well as improving care for people who already
need treatment, by learning and remembering the ABCs:
A: Aspirin for those at risk;
B: Blood Pressure Control;
C: Cholesterol Control;
and 'S: Smoking Cessation.
Remember, augmenting even one risk factor in your life now can make a big
difference in the number and quality of years you live.