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Health Information Assessing Your Heart Risk

Have a Heart-to-Heart with Yourself

Some of the following questions may be difficult to ask yourself, but answering honestly and sharing this information with your doctor can be the first step to lowering your risk for heart disease.

Do you smoke or use other tobacco products?
Smoking puts you at increased risk for heart disease. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, quit. While it may not be easy to quit, you can get help through a number of programs that can help support you in this process.

How’s your blood pressure?
If you blood pressure is high (140/90 or above) or even borderline (you are considered pre-hypertensive if your blood pressure is 120/80 or higher). You should ask your doctor for recommendations on how to lower it. He or she may suggest exercise and lowering the amount of sodium in your diet. If you doctor prescribes medication to reduce your blood pressure, take it regularly as prescribed.

What are your cholesterol numbers?
High blood cholesterol can promote the build up of plaque in your blood vessels. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be 200 mg/dL or lower. You must also consider your low-density lipoprotein or LDL levels, which should be less than 100 mg/dL. Controlling your blood cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease. You may be able to control these levels through a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Exercise helps, too. If your doctor prescribes medicine to control your blood cholesterol levels, take it regularly as prescribed.

How’s your blood sugar?
As you may know, uncontrolled blood sugar levels associated with diabetes and glucose intolerance can put you at risk for heart disease. Diet and exercise can make a difference. If these aren’t enough, you may need more help. Your doctor can tell you about medical options for controlling your blood sugar.

How’s your weight?
Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease. It also increases your risk for diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, exercise and diet are important first steps.

Do you exercise regularly?
Ideally you should get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. If you can’t do 30 minutes all at once, it can be done in 10 minute or more increments adding up to 30 minutes. If you’re unable to do that you may want to consider increasing your physical activities by taking stairs instead of the elevator, walking rather than taking a car for short trips around the neighborhood, etc.

You may have to adjust the above recommendations depending on your present state of health. Always consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Do you follow a low-fat diet?
Unlike the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, which you can probably exceed with little impact on your overall diet, even getting a few more than the recommended servings of fats and oils can be detrimental, not only to your waistline, also to your blood vessels.

The kind of fats and oils that you consume makes a difference, too. You should try to avoid saturated fats and transfats. Instead you should get most, if not all, of your recommended serving of fats from "good fats" (such as mono-saturated fats found in plant-based oils, like olive oil). But be careful: The daily recommended serving for fats and oils is only about three tablespoons.

Beware of fats that can be hidden in other food choices that you make, especially meats and some processed foods. It’s important to read labels and make good choices.

Do you get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables?
Good nutrition is good for the heart. And eating lots of fruits and vegetables provides vitamins and minerals to nourish your body, your heart and blood vessels. Fruits and vegetables also offer a fat-free and high-fiber alternative to more high-calorie food choices.

Start Today

The great thing is that all of the above risk factors can be changed, usually by simple lifestyle changes, sometimes with the help of your doctor. Pick the first risk factor that you want to work on and start lower your risk today. Once you’ve been successful reducing one risk factor, you can move on to the next until you’ve successful.

Here’s a chart of your progress that can help encourage you by keeping track of the changes and gains you have made.

Factors Outside Your Control

Some factors outside your control include your age, your genetics and past medical problems. You should discuss the impact of these risk factors with your doctor at your next visit.

What’s your age?
Your risk for heart disease increases as you age. Beginning at age 45 for men and age 55 for women.

Has anyone in your family had a heart attack?
Family history of heart attack could mean that you’re at increased risk. Especially if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55, or your mother or a sister was diagnosed before age 65.

Have you had a heart attack or stroke?
If you’ve had a heart attack, you are at increased risk to have another heart attack or a stroke. If you’ve had a stroke, you are at increased risk of having another stroke or a heart attack.

The first step is to know you risk factors. To control those that you can control. And to take extra care of your health and work closely with your doctor. If you have risk factors outside of your control, you doctor can help explain your best options for controlling your risk.


Heart and Vascular Health Services at
Rush University Medical Center

At Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, researchers and nurse specialists work in teams to address the full scope of heart problems, whether common or complex.

Working in state-of-the art facilities, using some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, these experts are on the leading edge of diagnosis, treatment and discovery. From preventive measures to heart transplantation, they are helping to revolutionize heart care.

For more information about cardiovascular services at Rush visit our Heart & Vascular Programs home page.

Looking for Other Health Information?

  • Visit our Health Information home page.
  • Visit Discover Rush’s Web Resource page to find articles on health topics and recent health news from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. You will also find many helpful links to other areas of our site.

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Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, is a leader in caring for people of all ages, from newborns through older adults.

Just phone (888) 352-RUSH or (888) 352-7874 for help finding the Rush doctor who’s right for you.


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