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Understanding Heart Disease: Am I at Risk?

2 min read

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a class of disorders that affects the heart and blood vessels. It’s an umbrella term that includes conditions like coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke. Genetics, your environment, and your lifestyle choices can all contribute to your risk for developing CVD. Here are conditions that serve as warning signs and can develop into more serious disorders down the road: 

Early Warning Signs & Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease 

High Blood Pressure 

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition that strains the walls of the arteries, potentially leading to serious health complications, including cardiovascular disease. It is typically defined by two measurements: systolic pressure (the pressure when the heart beats) and diastolic pressure (the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats). The normal blood pressure reading is at or slightly below 120/80 mm Hg. Hypertension is diagnosed when readings consistently exceed 130/80 mm Hg, but anything between 120/80 mm and 130/80 mm Hg is considered elevated blood pressure. Regular monitoring of blood pressure is crucial and can be done at home using blood pressure monitors. 

High Cholesterol  

High cholesterol is a condition that’s diagnosed when you have elevated levels of total cholesterol with particular attention paid to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often called “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and ApoB levels. High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in arteries, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease. Your doctor will measure cholesterol levels through a blood test. Typically, your provider will look at both your levels of LDL cholesterol and your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, aiming for lower LDL and higher HDL levels and total cholesterol levels falling below 200 mg/dL. They will also note your levels of triglycerides and ApoB to make sure they are within a safe range for your CVD risk. Lifestyle changes, including a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, and medication prescribed by healthcare providers, are all important parts of managing high cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart-related complications. 

Chronic Hyperglycemia  

Hyperglycemia — elevated levels of glucose in your blood — often comes with a diagnosis of either type 1 and type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet in the diabetes range. Prediabetes often goes undiagnosed — the CDC estimates that up to 80% of individuals may be unaware of their constant high blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia damages the lining of your blood vessels worsening high blood pressure and potentially damaging other tissues in the eyes and kidneys. It can also have a big impact on your triglyceride and other cholesterol levels. If you have chronic high blood sugar levels, your provider will likely regularly monitor your blood glucose levels, advise you on lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that can help manage the condition and reduce the risks to your heart health. 

Adopting a heart-healthy diet, particularly one rich in plants (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes) can help treat the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease (CVD). These foods are inherently high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which collectively contribute to lowering cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and improving blood vessel function. Here are 5 foods that can boost heart health.

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