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Assessing Your Personal Risk of Heart Disease-No Risk Factors by 50 is a Good Goal

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You've heard this before: "Well, my Aunt Sally smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, drank a bourbon every night, never exercised a day in her life and she lived to be 97 years old. I plan to be like Aunt Sally."

It can feel like a game of chance sometimes. Spin the wheel and hope that you get the lucky number that keeps you free of heart disease without having to give up the habits you enjoy.

But the truth is there's a lot of information that can help us figure out how likely we are to be one of the lucky ones. Here are some figures that researchers have learned from a recent study:

  • More than 50 percent of men and nearly 40 percent of women will develop cardiovascular disease sometime in their lives.

  • If, on the other hand, at age 50, an individual has low cholesterol, blood pressure in the normal range, doesn't smoke and doesn't have diabetes-this is called "optimal risk factors"-the risk of developing heart disease if you're a man is 5.2 percent and if you're a woman, 8.2 percent.

  • Among people who had two or more of the risk factors above, men's risk of heart attack was 68.9 percent and women's risk was 50.2 percent.

  • In terms of overall survival, men and women who had optimal risk factors at age 50 lived an average of 39 more years, while men who had two risk factors lived 28 more years and women who had two risk factors lived 31 more years.

  • The highest risk for cardiovascular disease was diabetes. Men who had diabetes by age 50 had a 67.1 percent chance of developing heart disease, while women with diabetes had a 43 percent chance of doing so.
Managing risk important for people under 50

It's common for people to think they don't have to start worrying about heart disease or stroke until they're older. But the take-away message for everybody here is that these numbers are important to people younger than 50 as well.

In fact, you could even say the numbers apply more. Because it's much easier to take steps to avoid the risk factors than it is to get rid of the risk factor once you have it. What does this mean in real life terms?

Make sure you take steps NOW to:

  • Keep blood pressure under control. This means finding out what your blood pressure is, and if it's in the good range, do your best to keep it there by managing your stress levels, getting exercise just about every day, avoiding cigarettes and eating healthy foods.

  • Manage diabetes, if you have it. Too much sugar in your blood wreaks havoc with your cardiovascular system. The more tightly you control your diabetes, the better you're doing at managing your risk of heart disease.

  • Keep cholesterol under control. Find out what your cholesterol is, and if it's in the good range, talk with your doctor about what you need to do to keep it there. If it's high, follow your doctor's recommendations for lowering it. This may include taking a cholesterol-lowering medication.

  • If you smoke, try to quit. This is hard to do, but not as hard as trying to live with heart disease. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Studies show that people who work with their doctors on smoking cessation have higher success rates.
Aunt Sally was probably one of the lucky ones who never developed high blood pressure, didn't get diabetes and had healthy cholesterol levels. You many be lucky too, and be just like your Aunt Sally. On the other hand, you may not. Isn't it a good idea to find out what the reality is, instead of spinning a wheel and hoping things turn out in your favor?


Source:
Circulation, Rapid Access Journal Report, 7 February 2006



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