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4 Heart Disease Risk Factors

Feb 01, 2018 10:56AM
Heart disease is the top killer for Americans, causing approximately 610,000 deaths each year in the United States. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, the death rate overall from heart disease has declined. Yet high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity remain some of the top contributing risk factors.  

The good news is there are four important risk factors for heart disease you can control with lifestyle and behavior modifications. Baran Kilical, MD, cardiologist at Anne Arundel Medical Group (AAMG) Cardiology Specialists, breaks down each risk factor and what you can do to protect yourself.   


High levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ in the blood stream, called hyperlipidemia, can also damage the blood vessels over time and increase your risk of heart disease. Diet can significantly change cholesterol, for better or worse, depending on your food choices. A recent trial called the PREDIMED study showed that people who eat a Mediterranean diet—rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains—had less heart disease. Although diet can improve your cholesterol, medications may still be necessary to get it under control. The American College of Cardiology recommends that primary care doctors test patients for high cholesterol levels and base treatment on each patient’s overall risk factors for developing heart disease, rather than on the absolute numbers from blood tests. 

High Blood Pressure

Doctors refer to hypertension, or high blood pressure, as the silent killer. It is one of the top drivers of heart disease. Hypertension is often without symptoms, but can damage the body’s blood vessels if left untreated. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to know your blood pressure numbers. Routine preventative care visits with a primary care physician, including regular blood pressure checks, are very important in the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure. Patients can also check their blood pressure regularly at a local pharmacy or buy an automated blood pressure cuff for use at home.  


Diabetes is another heart disease risk factor, and is on the rise. Doctors can easily diagnose this disease through routine blood tests, and can treat it with medications. If left untreated, the circulating sugar slowly damages the body’s blood vessels, leading to heart disease as well as loss of vision, stroke, poor circulation in the legs, and poor wound healing. African Americans, in particular, may be under-diagnosed with diabetes. One reason being that the standard blood test, called a hemoglobin A1C test, may be inaccurate in the presence of the sickle-cell trait or disease which is found more commonly in African Americans. You should tell your doctor about your sickle cell status before testing for diabetes. Your diet is also key. It’s important to monitor sugar intake as well carbohydrates, which also affect blood sugar levels.  


As a medical term, obesity is defined as carrying significantly more weight than is ideal for your height, and correlates with a body mass index of 30 or higher. Doctors know that this is a difficult-to-fix but, ultimately, preventable risk factor. Obesity is a significant problem, currently affecting 33 percent of all Americans. Weight loss can be challenging and frustrating, but it must be viewed as an achievable goal through improved diet and increased physical activity. When patients have trouble making progress, primary care doctors may recommend consultation with a provider who specializes in weight loss.

There are some things in life we cannot control. But for those things we can, particularly when it comes to our health, knowledge is power. Awareness remains critical to the fight against heart disease. Talk to you doctor about how you can gain control. 

“4 Heart Disease Risk Factors You Can Control” was provided by Anne Arundel Medical Center.