Know The Risks

Here's a sobering statistic: Heart disease kills one of every four women. And while we can't change risk factors such as family history and race, medical research has revealed at least seven threats we can overcome through knowledge and action. "Focusing on the modifiable risk factors can make drastic changes to our heart's health," says Dr. Joseph Rotella, MD, DC.

Woman Smoking

The deadly seven

Here are some heart disease risk factors that you can eliminate from your life, for your life:

1. Tobacco use:

"Even smoking just one to four cigarettes per day doubles the chance that you will have, or die from, a heart attack," says Teresa Caulin-Glaser, MD, FACC, FAACVPR and executive director of McConnell Heart Health Center in Columbus, Ohio.

2. High blood pressure:

According to Caulin-Glaser, blood pressure greater than 130/85 mm/HG increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease 10 times over.

3. Physical inactivity:

Your heart is, of course, a muscle -- and a lack of exercise weakens it just as it does other muscles. This compromises the blood-carrying abilities of your arteries, veins and capillaries.

4. Type 2 diabetes:

"Many women are unaware that diabetes is a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease -- and this risk is greater in women than in men," says Caulin-Glaser. High blood sugar damages the vessels supplying blood to the heart; the vessels' linings can actually thicken, making it more difficult for blood to flow through. The good news is that Type 2 diabetes -- even in the face of a family history -- is largely preventable through nutrition and exercise.

5. Cholesterol levels / Poor nutrition:

Some experts, such as Dr. James Carlson (author of GENOCIDE: How Your Doctor's Dietary Ignorance Will Kill You) maintain that cholesterol has never been shown to cause heart disease. Rather, he says, "It is the conversion of sugar molecules to cholesterol, with the resultant cholesterol, which is the real culprit behind heart disease."

6. Stress:

Says Caulin-Glaser, "Women's hearts are more susceptible to stress, expressed in a phenomenon known as 'broken heart syndrome,' which triggers heart attack symptoms after emotional trauma in post-menopausal women with clean arteries."

7. Metabolic syndrome:

This is a cluster of risk factors that often occur together, with one component aggravating another. They include "central obesity" (waist of more than 35"); high blood pressure (greater than 130/85 mm/HG); low levels of HDL cholesterol (less than 50 mg/dl); high triglyceride levels (above 150 mg/dl); and blood sugar levels of more than 100 mg/dl.Want to know more about what you can do to reduce these risks? Read the companion article here 10 Ways to cut your risk of heart disease.


Recommended for you