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Know Your Risk For Heart Disease

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Dear Dr. Levister: My family has a long history of heart disease. How can I tell if I’m at risk? C.E.

Dear C.E.: Knowing whether you are at risk for heart disease can empower you to do something about it. Heart disease is a serious health problem for all Americans, especially African Americans. Although it is the #1 killer of Americans, most people are not aware that they are at risk for heart disease. Many African Americans believe that a heart attack or stroke happens suddenly because of a scary experience, getting bad news, or having strong feelings like anger. A heart attack or stroke may seem sudden, but the truth is that heart disease happens over many years. It often starts at a very young age.

Heart disease develops when the blood vessels going to the heart become narrow and clogged. Clogged arteries increase the risk of developing heart disease. Your heart is one of your strongest muscles. It pumps blood to all parts of your body through miles of blood vessels all day and night. Blood carries the nutrients and oxygen your body needs to keep going. The heart is so important; you want to keep it healthy. When the heart stops, life stops.

High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, and diabetes can increase the risk for heart disease, so they are called risk factors.

Here is a quiz on risk factors you cannot change:

*Age (45 years or older for men, 55 years or older for women)
Family history—
*Father or brother with heart disease before age 55
*Mother or sister with heart disease before age 65
The more risk factors you checked, the greater your chances of developing heart disease.

February is ‘Heart Health Month’. Take this opportunity to reduce your risk by making lifestyle changes.

Take steps to lose weight if you are overweight. Eat smaller portions—do not go back for a second serving. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, and slowly increase to 60 minutes. If you have high blood pressure, take your medicines the way your doctor tells you. Do not share medicines with friends or family. If you cannot afford your medicine, let your doctor know. There may be programs to help you buy your medicine.

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