[Updated on February 12, 2018]
What’s your risk for heart disease and stroke? To find out, experts recommend three things. Get a doctor’s assessment of your current health status. Talk about your health history and habits to better assess your risks. And start taking smarter steps—even if they’re small—for a healthier future, right now.
Step 1: Know your numbers
Here’s the easy part. Schedule a doctor’s visit to learn the most critical numbers in your life, including: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). This information serves as key measures for assessing your risk for heart disease and stroke.
More than a number
Once you’re assessed, these personal numbers (see infographic) will allow you and your heathcare provider to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease due to atherosclerosis. This means that the arteries, blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your organs, have narrowed and constricted blood flow. The culprit: plaque made up of fats, cholesterols and other substances in the blood has hardened over time, bulging the artery’s walls and pushing into the path of blood flow.
It leads to conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots), peripheral artery disease (PAD) and even death. Armed with knowledge, you can take the next step to help prevent, treat or manage a condition.
Step 2: Consider your risk factors
Everyone faces a certain amount of risk for heart disease and stroke to varying degrees. Some factors are beyond your control—like family history, age, gender, race or a previous heart condition. But you can have a strong influence on these and other factors by seeing a healthcare provider, knowing your numbers and learning to manage risks with help and guidance.
Within your grasp
You can control or treat certain risk factors with lifestyle changes and your healthcare provider's help. That includes risks like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, obesity or being overweight, a poor diet and diabetes.
Step 3: Take action
The following tips from the American Heart Association are recommended for anyone who seeks to live a longer, healthier life. Even modest changes, one or two steps at a time, will make a big difference in your life.
- Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at much higher risk for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys—helping you stay healthier longer.
- Control cholesterol. High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.
- Reduce blood sugar. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
- Get active. Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, getting daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
- Eat better. A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy for the long term.
- Lose weight. When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and bones. By giving yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and help yourself feel better, too.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting tobacco is the best thing you can do for your health.
“These three steps can be a lifesaver: know your numbers, talk with a doctor about your personal risk factors, and take action today for a healthier heart,” says Peter Wong, MD, Cardiologist at CarePoint Health.
Put your heart to the test, see the full infographic to know your personal risk for heart-related diseases: