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Home > Medical Services > CardioVascular Center > Care of Your Heart > Risk Factors

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed or Controlled

Smoking
Smoking or tobacco use, can double your risk of a heart attack. Tobacco has many negative effects on your heart and blood vessels. The nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products raises your blood pressure and heart rate. Other chemicals in tobacco products can also increase the tendency for the blood to clot, damage the lining in your arteries, and tighten your blood vessels which can decrease the blood and oxygen being delivered to the heart.
Continuing to smoke or use tobacco products after a heart procedure increases the chance that your newly stented or bypassed blood vessels will start closing off again. If you smoke it is important that you quit! This is not easy for some people and you may need additional help. Discuss how to quit smoking with your doctor and/or healthcare professional. Call our Wellness Department at 610-738-2300 to discuss a stop smoking program.

High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure placed on the arteries as the heart pumps blood out to all parts of the body. High blood pressure (hypertension) is often referred to as the "silent killer" because it may not produce any symptoms for years before any serious damage has occurs. High blood pressure increases the workload of your heart and arteries. This can lead to heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

Blood pressure is recorded as a set of two numbers. The top number is the systolic pressure and represents the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood to the body. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure and represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest, between beats.

Everyone's blood pressure is different and your blood pressure may vary throughout the day. If your numbers stay above 120 systolic or 80 diastolic this increases your risk. Your doctor may want to treat you. High blood pressure cannot be cured but it can be controlled. Healthy habits such as following a healthy diet, limiting salty foods, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing stress will help prevent and control high blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your blood pressure.

Elevated Cholesterol /Triglyceride (Lipid Profile) Levels
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced in the liver and found in normal body cells. The "good" type of cholesterol or HDL (think H for "healthy") is important to the production and regulation of hormones. The "bad" cholesterol or LDL (think L for "lousy") accumulates in the blood and blood vessels where problems begin.

As cholesterol builds up in the coronary arteries it forms a stubborn plaque that narrows the artery and restricts blood flow. The loss of blood flow results in a decreased oxygen supply to the heart muscle. If the blood flow is completely blocked it may result in a heart attack. High cholesterol is one of the major modifiable risk factors for heart disease.
Lowering your cholesterol can significantly reduce your risk. You and your doctor can develop a diet and exercise plan to reduce your cholesterol. Your doctor may also prescribe medication for you.

Triglycerides are a fat made in the body. An elevated triglyceride level can be due to physical inactivity, being overweight, smoking, excess alcohol consumption or a diet high in carbohydrates.

Your lipid profile is a report of the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides present in your blood stream. This is done as a fasting blood test. Treatment may include increased activity, dietary changes and or medication. Discuss with your physician how to best manage your cholesterol and triglycerides.

Diabetes
Diabetes, or a family tendency toward diabetes, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Diabetes is the inability of the body to use glucose (sugar) properly. Untreated it can cause premature aging and damage to the blood vessel walls, including the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries of patients with diabetes are more susceptible to plaque formation and blockage which can cause a heart attack. Diabetes may also cause peripheral vascular disease, kidney disease and problems with eyesight. Regular exercise, improving nutrition, managing weight and stress can all help to control blood sugar levels, which helps in preventing heart disease.

In general, a normal fasting blood sugar is less than 100 mg/dL. A blood sugar between 100-125 mg/dL is considered to be an impaired fasting blood sugar or prediabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed when the fasting blood sugar is 126 mg/dL or greater.
Another important indicator of your blood sugar control is a blood test called a Hemoglobin A1C (HgA1C). This gives an estimate of your average blood sugar over the past three months. The A1C goal for patients in general is <7%, or as close to normal as possible (<6%) without causing low blood sugars.

Obesity
The heart has to pump harder to supply blood to an overweight body. As the heart works harder, it requires more oxygen. People who are overweight are at a greater risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, joint problems, and many other diseases. If you need to lose weight, losing as little as five to ten percent of your current weight can reduce your risk. Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is another important number. This is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A normal BMI is between 20 and 25, overweight is 25-30 and obesity is a BMI of greater than 30. You can manage your weight with heart healthy eating and exercise. Your doctor and other healthcare professionals such as a dietitian, a cardiac rehabilitation clinician or nurse will help you with your exercise and heart healthy eating plan. For help with your weight management please call our Wellness Department @ 610-738-2300 or Outpatient Diabetes and Nutrition Services @ 610-738-2835.

Physical Inactivity
A sedentary life style, or lack of physical activity, doubles your risk of having a heart attack. If you have not been active before, starting slowly is one way to enjoy physical activity without making it seem overwhelming. Regular physical activity promotes cardiovascular fitness and can help lower blood pressure, and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, raise HDL ("good") cholesterol, decrease weight, help control diabetes and reduce stress.

There are many types of physical activities to choose from, but walking is the easiest, least expensive and has the lowest dropout rate of them all! To maintain and promote health, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as a brisk walk) 5 days a week.
Before starting any exercise program, you should talk to your physician.

Last Updated: 7/19/2011