Heart disease is the number one cause of death among men and women in the U.S., but many are unaware of the risk factors and lifestyle choices that increase their chances of developing the disease. Now, a recent study found that the method doctors have long used to calculate a person’s risk of developing heart disease may be inaccurate. The study reported that many people may be unnecessarily taking medication to control risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, while others — particularly African-Americans — may not be receiving enough treatment. Whether you think you may be at risk for heart disease or you’re currently being treated for the condition, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about where you stand.

Assess

Looking at your age, gender, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — and taking into account whether you smoke or have a family history of diabetes — your doctor can determine your risk factor and work with you on a course of treatment, if necessary. African-Americans and Latinos face a higher risk of developing heart disease and are particularly encouraged to undergo a health assessment by their doctor. Also, if you are currently taking medication to lower your blood pressure or manage your cholesterol levels, it is important to be evaluated for your risk of developing heart disease, since several studies have shown that medications can be both under-prescribed and over-prescribed.

Manage

If your doctor determines that you have a high risk for heart disease, he or she may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure or manage your cholesterol levels to prevent a heart attack. If you have a lower risk, you may be encouraged to make lifestyle changes in order to manage or reduce your likelihood of developing heart disease. Losing weight, not smoking (or quitting if you do), exercising, limiting alcohol and eating a heart — healthy diet have all been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and aid in the prevention of heart issues.

In either case, knowing your risk — and what you can do to lower it — can help you maintain your heart health and avoid any unnecessary treatment.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

The major risk factors for heart disease include some that cannot be controlled — such as family history, gender and age. That’s why it’s so important to make changes to manage the ones you can control, such as by exercising, avoiding smoking and eating well. Check this list to see how you measure up:

  • Increasing age
  • Male (gender)*
  • Heredity (including race)**
  • Smoking tobacco
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity/Overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol drinking
  • Poor diet and nutrition

* While men are at greater risk of having a heart attack than women — and may have an attack earlier in life — women are more likely to die of a heart attack when they do have one.

**African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans have a higher risk of heart disease than Caucasians do.

 
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine

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