Understanding the Risks & How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

A couple wearing red holds their hands together in a heart shape

The first step toward heart health is understanding the risks and learning how to prevent and reverse heart disease. The risk depends on many factors, some of which are changeable and others that are not.

Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. These risk factors are different for each person.

The first step in preventing heart disease is knowing and understanding our personal risk factors. In this blog, we'll discuss the next step - identifying what steps we can take to lower them.

Understanding Personal Risk Factors

One of the biggest keys to successfully understanding individual risk factors is having a strong partnership with your provider. This is especially important because risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol generally don't have obvious signs or symptoms.

See your doctor for a thorough checkup and risk assessment. Your doctor may use a risk calculator to estimate your risk of having a heart attack, having a stroke, or dying from a heart or blood vessel disease in the next 10 years or throughout your lifetime.

Your doctor can be an important partner in helping you set and reach goals for heart health. It's a good idea to ask about your risk for heart disease at each annual checkup since risk can change over time.

Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

What does my blood pressure mean for me, and what do I need to do about it?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of our arteries as our heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage our heart and blood vessels and lead to plaque buildup.

Blood pressure is typically considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle changes and may prescribe medicines. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked.

Cholesterol and Heart Disease: How Do They Relate?

What does my cholesterol level mean, and what do I need to do about it?

High blood cholesterol is a condition in which blood has unhealthy levels of cholesterol—a waxy, fat-like substance. Your cholesterol numbers include total cholesterol, "bad" LDL cholesterol, "good" HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

If you have unhealthy (high LDL/low HDL/high triglycerides) cholesterol levels, your doctor may suggest heart-healthy lifestyle changes. If these changes alone are not enough, your doctor may also prescribe a statin or other medicine to help manage your cholesterol levels.

Why is Physical Activity Important in Preventing Heart Disease?

Regular physical activity can lower many heart disease risk factors such as "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, increase "good" HDL cholesterol levels, and manage high blood pressure. The more active you are, the more you will benefit. Aerobic exercise benefits your lungs the most. This is any exercise in which your heart beats faster and you use more oxygen than usual, such as brisk walking, running, biking, and swimming.

Finding a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle for You

Heart-healthy eating involves choosing certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while limiting others, such as saturated and trans fats and added sugars. Foods that make up the foundation of a heart-healthy eating plan include:

  • Vegetables: leafy greens (spinach, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes
  • Whole grains: plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy: milk, cheese, or yogurt
  • Lean meats: skinless chicken, turkey, fish (high in omega 3 fatty acids)
  • Foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:

- Oils: Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean

- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts

- Seeds: sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax

- Avocados

How to Check If Your Heart Is Okay

Screening means testing for a disease when there are no symptoms or history of that disease. In terms of heart disease, it can literally mean the difference between life and death. Half of the deaths resulting from Coronary heart disease (the leading cause of death among American adults) occur suddenly, without prior symptoms or warning. However, if the risk factors leading to a heart attack are identified early enough and you learn how to prevent and reverse heart disease, 85% of sudden heart attacks may be prevented.

Ready to Improve Your Heart Health?

Summit Medical Group can measure your risk in minutes with a Cardiac Calcium Screen. The exam helps predict heart disease risk at an early stage before symptoms occur and for up to 10 years after the scan.

Cardiac Calcium Scoring uses high-resolution, rapid CT to take multiple-angle X-rays, creating 2-dimensional images of the beating heart. It determines the amount of atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up, in the coronary arteries, which is directly related to your risk for a future heart attack. Over time, plaque can cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries, decreasing blood flow to the heart.

Summit physicians analyze the CT to provide a calcium score for the risk of cardiac artery blockage. Your physician will receive your report and can devise a comprehensive plan to minimize risk and maximize heart health.

For additional information about our Cardiac Calcium Screening, visit: https://www.summitmedical.com/services/diagnostic/cardiacscreening. To schedule your screening, call 865-588-8005.