Take Important Steps to Assess Your Cardiovascular Risk and Prevent Disease
What is your risk for heart and vascular disease?
Heart disease continues to be the number one killer of Americans, surpassing breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. The most common cardiovascular problems are heart attack and stroke, but there are also heart rhythm problems, heart failure (trouble with breathing and exertion) and valve issues.
Being aware of factors that increase your risk of developing heart disease is the first step to preventing or slowing the progression of disease.
Assess Your Risk for Heart Disease
New assessment tools allow you to evaluate your risk of certain heart events 10 years from now and across your lifetime.
“Start with your primary care physician or your cardiologist to learn about an assessment and when you should have one. You can also go to the Internet for tools, if you know your cholesterol numbers and blood pressure,” says TriHealth Heart Institute Cardiologist Asimul Ansari, MD.
Online risk estimators for heart disease include:
Dr. Ansari recommends having a risk assessment by your 40s — or sooner if you smoke, or have a family history of heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol.
“The body has a lot of reserve built in, so frequently people don’t present with symptoms until disease is fairly advanced. If we can identify your risks early, we can tailor your treatment to address and reduce risk factors,” Dr. Ansari says.
“Preventing disease is much better than having to treat disease,” he adds.
He notes that having a family history of heart disease doesn’t mean that you are destined to have the same problems.
“With screenings and imaging techniques to identify risk factors, and early intervention, you don’t necessarily have to develop disease,” he continues.
He says that a calcium score and a blood test called C-reactive protein can be used independently or together to predict coronary artery disease. Your calcium score is a measurement of the calcium in your coronary arteries obtained with a non-invasive CT scan of your heart. These tests are generally reserved for people over the age of 40 who have at least one risk factor and are not on aggressive medications.
Steps to a Healthier Heart
Whether you are working to prevent heart disease or you already have disease and want to keep it from progressing, Dr. Ansari, in accordance with the American Heart Association, recommends general guidelines for optimal heart health:
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
- Assess your weight using the body mass index scale (BMI), an estimate of your body fat based on height and weight. Strive for a “normal” BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
- Keep blood pressure below 120/80.
- Have fasting blood glucose less that 100 milligrams/deciliter.
- Keep total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams/deciliter.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich grains, fish twice a week, sodium less than 1,500 milligrams per day and minimal sugar-sweetened desserts and beverages.
“Have a mentality of doing this for the long-term, and focus on realistic, achievable goals,” Dr. Ansari says. “Create a support system of family, friends and health care providers to help you. The end result will be a healthier heart and a higher quality of life.” Asimul Ansari, MD, is a medical cardiologist with a special interest in cardiac diagnostics. He practices with the TriHealth Heart Institute and sees patients at Bethesda Arrow Springs in Lebanon, Bethesda Butler Hospital in Hamilton and Bethesda North Hospital in Montgomery. Dr. Ansari is a resident of Mason, where he lives with his wife, Asma Ansari, MD, TriHealth dermatologist.