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For Heart Health, Focus on Risk Factors

For Heart Health, Focus on Risk Factors

Heart failure is also a form of heart disease. Heart failure implies that your heart suddenly stops beating, but that’s not the case — it refers to the diminished capacity of a damaged ticker.

Heart failure often leaves you feeling exhausted or breathless, because your heart is having trouble delivering enough blood — and the oxygen in that blood — to every part of your body.­

Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) is also considered a form of heart disease. A diseased heart may begin to flutter or race and, in extreme cases, can prevent blood from properly moving through the heart’s chambers.

One way doctors predict your likelihood of getting these conditions is through a little equation called the Framingham formula, which takes a bunch of risk factors and calculates how likely you are to get coronary heart disease.

The problem is that the Framingham formula is pretty complex. So to make it easy for you, we’re going to focus on five risk factors in this article.

First, we’ll talk about the factor we all like to blame when we look at our oversized feet or our untamed eyebrows: genetics.

Lifestyle

Unlike other causes of heart disease such as genetics, gender or age, you can help prevent one major cause of heart disease — your lifestyle.

If you smoke, try your hardest to quit. Smoking increases blood pressure and damages your heart’s tissues.

Obesity is a big contributor to heart disease, so eat a low-fat diet and get exercise as often as you can, ideally for a half-hour at least four times a week.

Drink like Ben Franklin’s advice, but not like Ben Franklin’s habits — in moderation. A daily serving of alcohol may in fact improve your heart’s health

Age

On average, your heart will beat up to 3.3 billion times before its final lub-dub [source: Roizen]. Any way you slice it, a workload that heavy causes plenty of wear and tear.

As we age, not only do we have trouble finding our reading glasses, but our arteries harden, the ­walls of our hearts get thicker, and overall heart function decreases.

In addition to the normal effects of aging, other contributing factors like high blood pressure and lack of exercise have been in play all those years, taking their tolls as well.

All of this adds up to a pretty hefty statistic — people age 65 and older make up 83 percent of all heart disease deaths

Diabetes

Diabetes is an inability to self-regulate blood-glucose levels. It’s also a contributing cause of heart disease. Diabetics are twice as likely as nondiabetics to suffer from heart disease [source: American Diabetes Association]. Worse still, they’re five times more likely to have heart attacks

Diabetes affects many parts of the body, especially the kidneys. As systems lose full function, the heart is forced to work harder and carry even more of a load.

The inner lining of the artery is already nicked up by products in the bloodstream such as sugars and lipids, and the excess sugars in a diabetic’s blood cause even greater wear and tear. It doesn’t help when the sugary blood is being sent through the body with greater force from high blood pressure, which diabetics are also more likely to have.

Gender

When it comes to the battle of the sexes, victory favors women through simple attrition. Men are, on average, 66 years old when they have thei­r first heart attack, and nearly 50 percent of men who have a heart attack by the age of 65 will die by the time they’re 73 .

More men in America die from heart disease than from any other single cause, and it was responsible for 28 percent of all American men’s deaths in 2003

Genetics

Genetics is a big factor in determining your likelihood of future heart disease. When it comes to the family tree, you’re most at risk if a direct rel­ative (a parent or sibling) has had a heart attack.

If your father or brother has had one before the age of 45 — or if your mother or sister has had one before the age of 55 — you should be especially concerned.

A history of heart disease in your extended family is a factor as well.

Your genes may make you more susceptible to heart disease, but they can also make you more prone to contributing factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

African-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure, which contributes to heart disease.

In fact, studies have shown that African-Americans are twice as likely to die of heart disease than Caucasians . Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, certain Asian ethnicities and Hispanics are also at higher risk.

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