Cardiovascular disease - damage to the heart and blood vessels - claims more American lives each year than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association. Yet simple preventive steps, such as getting a cardiovascular screening, can help you make strides toward keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy.
Plaque buildup in the arteries - known as atherosclerosis - is the main cause of cardiovascular disease. When the blood vessels that deliver blood to and from the heart become blocked or damaged, it can affect the heart itself, causing heart disease or leading to stroke. Heart disease is the most severe form of cardiovascular disease, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 27 million people have been diagnosed with it.
Awareness, prevention, testing and communication can help you manage cardiovascular disease risks.
1. Recognize and reduce risks.
High LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol are among the most well-known risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease, but they're not the only ones to be aware of. If you have untreated high blood pressure, a family history of cardiovascular disease, or diabetes, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease may be elevated, the Heart Association says. Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to cardiovascular risks, and women past the age of menopause and men older than 45 can also have a higher risk of developing the disease.
You can reduce these well-known risk factors by:
- Having your cholesterol tested regularly, and maintaining the levels your doctor recommends.
- Being aware of family history.
- Managing diabetes or other health issues that can lead to complications.
- Quitting smoking, if applicable.
- Sticking to a regular exercise routine. Consult your doctor to learn what exercises and activity level will be best for you.
2. Have a cardiovascular screening done.
Early detection is vital to effectively treating cardiovascular disease; you'll have a better chance to stay healthy if you catch the disease before you begin to experience symptoms. Cardiovascular screenings, such as those provided by Life Line Screening, are an affordable, easy and non-invasive way to detect possible problems in a patient's blood vessels before they become more serious. The ultrasound testing looks inside a person's arteries for signs of blockage, which can help detect cardiovascular disease early. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that such testing improved doctors' overall ability to predict cardiovascular risks.
Cardiovascular screening is often recommended for people older than 55 who have risk factors.
3. Adopt vascular-friendly habits.
While some risk factors such as age and genetics are beyond your control, you do have the power to influence others. Certain lifestyle changes are known to benefit cardiovascular health, while delivering other health benefits as well. The American Heart Association recommends these heart- and blood-vessel-friendly lifestyle tips:
- Eat a diet that's low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sugar and salt.
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are rich in fiber. Have fish at least twice a week, and incorporate nuts, legumes and seeds into your diet. Reduce your meat intake, choose lean meats when you do eat meat, and opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week, choosing moderate to intense activity. Or, if you're able, do 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity like jogging or running every week. Do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
4. Learn and communicate.
While caring for your cardiovascular health is important at any age, risks rise with age. As you grow older, be aware of the signs of stroke and heart attack. Talk to your doctor about your risks for cardiovascular and heart disease, preventive measures, and how to best detect and treat problems early.
If you're at elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, or have it, get support from friends, family and social groups to help you maintain your cardiovascular health. Support can help you stay on track with important lifestyle changes and make it easier to monitor your disease.