Heart Disease Home > Preventing Heart Disease
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood. High cholesterol does not cause damage over days, weeks, or months. Rather, over years, high blood cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing or complete blockage of arteries because of the buildup of plaque. The arteries most affected by plaque buildup are the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. This is one reason why heart disease and heart attacks are one of the effects of high cholesterol.
Several studies have examined the effects of cholesterol treatment as a method of heart disease prevention. These cholesterol research studies have shown that the progress of atherosclerosis may be stopped by reducing cholesterol levels. In some cases, it may even be reversed. This results in fewer people developing and dying from heart disease. It also reduces the number of people with heart disease who have another heart attack or who die from heart disease.
You should have your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked (with a lipid panel test) at least once every five years. If your triglyceride or cholesterol levels are high, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to lower them. You may be able to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels by eating better (see Low Cholesterol Diet) and exercising more (see Exercise and Cholesterol). Your healthcare provider may also prescribe cholesterol medication.
Prevent or Manage Diabetes
About 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in those with the condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not properly produce or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches, and other nutrients into energy. Another 16 million Americans have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Genetics and lifestyle factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity, can lead to diabetes.
One in three people who have diabetes don't know they have it. See a healthcare provider if you have any diabetes symptoms, which include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Increased fatigue
- Blurry vision.
For those people who smoke, quitting is extremely important for preventing heart disease. Smokers have more than twice the risk of having a heart attack as nonsmokers. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death, and smokers who have a heart attack are more likely to die than nonsmokers who have a heart attack.
The good news is that quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of heart attack. One year after quitting, the risk drops to about one-half that of current smokers and gradually returns to normal in people without heart disease. Three years after quitting, your risk of dying from a heart attack is about the same as if you had never smoked. Even among people with heart disease, the risk also drops sharply one year after quitting smoking, and it continues to decline over time; however, the risk does not return to normal.