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New Report: Nearly Half of All Adults Have Cardiovascular Disease


Six Things You Need to Know About Heart Health.

A sobering report from the American Heart Association revealed that at least 48% of adults have some form of heart disease, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, or stroke.

After years of decline, deaths from cardiovascular disease are on the rise again. The most lethal disease in the U.S. took 840,678 lives in 2016, which is up from 836,546 in 2015.

Understanding your heart health risk will go a long way toward maintaining good heart health. So the next time you see your primary care physician, consider asking your doctor six questions that go to the heart of your cardiovascular system:

How do I know if I am at risk for cardiovascular disease?

Eventually everyone is at risk for heart disease, but while factors you can’t control like age and gender play a role in your risk for heart disease, there are risk factors that can be reduced including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

Luckily, there are things you can do to lower your risk. They start with making lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Eating foods high in fiber (fruits and vegetables) and complex carbohydrates
  • Drinking water in place of sugary or flavored beverages
  • Light exercise - 2.5 total hours per week - can lessen your risk dramatically 
  • Quit smoking. Even people who smoke just 5 cigarettes a day may show signs of early cardio-vascular disease (CVD). Smoking causes 1 in 4 deaths from CVD

In certain cases, when high risk levels don't respond to lifestyle changes, prescription medications can lower heart health risks as well.

How does cholesterol impact my heart?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is in your blood. Your liver produces cholesterol from the foods you eat. Understanding its impact means understanding total cholesterol, including “good” cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol and “triglycerides.”

“Bad” cholesterol is called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL is “bad” because it creates deposits that can clog arteries, block the flow of blood and make your heart work harder than it should. This puts you at a higher risk of heart disease.

“Good” cholesterol is called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. It’s “good” because, according to WebMd, “it protects against heart disease by taking the ‘bad’ cholesterol out of your blood and keeping it from building up in your arteries.” You can boost your good cholesterol with a heart-healthy diet that includes such things as olive oil, whole grains, high-fiber fruit, fatty fish and nuts.

Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. When you eat, your body turns the calories you don’t need to use right away into triglycerides and stores them in your blood. They’re eventually released to give you energy between meals.

Your goal LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels depend on your risk for cardiovascular disease, and you should discuss those goal levels with your doctor.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure?

When your blood pressure is high, it means that your heart is under stress and working too hard to move blood in and out of your heart and to and through the other organs of your body. There are several things you can do to lower your blood pressure, such as losing weight and reducing your waist size; exercising regularly; eating a healthy diet and reducing sodium and alcohol in your diet.

What’s my blood sugar level, and what does it have to do with heart health?

An elevated blood sugar level can put you at risk for not one, but two chronic diseases. Research shows that high blood sugar causes contraction of blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. High blood sugar also places you at risk of diabetes, which when unmanaged, can lead to limb loss and a heart attack or stroke. A normal fasting blood glucose level for non-diabetics, should be under 100 mg/dL. Higher readings indicate pre-diabetes, and readings 126 mg/dL or higher indicate diabetes. Make sure you discuss the blood sugar levels healthiest for you with your doctor.

As someone who may have elevated levels of bad cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose, what should I do?

You should be able to lower your risks by diet and exercise. For your diet, eat foods high in fiber (fruits and vegetables) and complex carbohydrates; drink water in place of flavored beverages; Get moving -- light exercise (2.5 total hours per week) can lessen your risk dramatically. In certain cases, when high risk levels don’t respond to lifestyle changes, prescription medications can lower heart health risks as well. If you are diabetic, make sure you keep close watch of your cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels, take your medications and work regularly with your doctor and health team to manage your health.

As someone who is healthy and does not have elevated levels of bad cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose, what should I do?

Your balanced diet is working. Keep it up! Maintain a healthy weight, stay active, don’t smoke and limit your alcohol intake.

For more information about living with and preventing heart health risks, visit the heart health pages of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.