Factors Affecting Heart Disease

Heart Disease Risk Factors: Fact and Fiction

Beside the common claims about heart disease risk factors below, our experts have provided a fact check and explanation. If you have any questions or would like to speak with one of our highly-trained cardiologists, please  contact us today.

1. There's nothing you can do to prevent heart disease.

Fiction. Healthy adults can reduce their risk for heart disease and a heart attack by staying at a healthy weight (a body mass index of less than 25), getting enough exercise (40 minutes on average 3 to 4 times a week), having regular medical checkups, taking prescribed medicines, and choosing healthy habits (not smoking, no excessive alcohol, controlling stress). Meet with your doctor at least once a year, or more often if you have health concerns. This is to make sure you are on top of your health and heart disease prevention.

2. Smokers are more likely to have heart disease than nonsmokers.

Fact. Smokers who smoke 1 pack per day are more than twice as likely as nonsmokers to have a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Smoking is one of the strongest preventable risk factors for heart disease. Talk with your doctor today about how to quit.

3. Some risk factors for heart disease can't be changed.

Fact. They include gender (men have a higher risk of early heart attack), age (your risk of heart attack increases as you get older), and family (you have an increased risk if your father or mother had heart disease). These are out of your control, but making changes to your lifestyle is a big part of preventing heart disease.

4. You have to exercise at least 1 hour a day to reduce your risk for heart disease.

Fiction. Just 40 minutes on average of moderate- to high-intensity physical activity 3 to 4 times a week can help you reduce your risk. Good choices are walking, cycling, and swimming. You can also choose activities you enjoy such as dancing and aerobics.

5. Drinking 3 to 4 alcoholic drinks each day can reduce your risk for heart disease.

Fiction. Men should not have more than 2 drinks a day. Women should limit themselves to 1 drink a day. If you do not already drink, you should not start drinking in order to lower your risk of heart disease. Other lifestyle changes can help with that.

6. High blood pressure can put your heart at risk.

Fact. Your heart must work harder than normal when your blood pressure is high. When this occurs over a long time, the heart can enlarge and arteries can become scarred and hardened. This can lead to increased risk for heart disease and even a heart attack.

7. An average of 100,000 Americans die from heart disease every year.

Fiction. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have some form of cardiovascular disease. This includes heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and high blood pressure. More than 500,000 deaths each year are related to cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. More people die from cardiovascular disease than from all cancers and chronic lung disease combined.

8. Someone who has had a heart attack is at increased risk of having another.

Fact. Some people ages 45 and older who survive a first heart attack are at increased risk of having another heart attack in the next 5 years.

9. You can't exercise if you have heart disease.

Fiction. Moderate exercise approved by your doctor plays an important role in controlling the disease. Talk with your doctor about an exercise plan that is right for you. You may need to be in a cardiac rehabilitation program if you have already had a heart attack.

10. Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease.

Fact. Your risk increases if you're overweight. This is because being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. These conditions also increase the risk for heart disease.

11. Young women have the same risk for heart disease as young men.

Fiction. Estrogen provides younger women some protection against heart disease, but that protection is lost after menopause, when women have roughly the same risk as men.

12. Emotions don't affect your risk for heart disease.

Fiction. Research shows a link between heart disease and high levels of stress and hostility. Stress increases hormone levels. These put higher demands on the heart.

13. Your diet doesn't affect your risk for heart disease.

Fiction. The food you eat has a direct impact on 3 major risk factors for heart disease: weight, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol. It's important to understand the relationship that these all have to prevent heart disease. Talk with your doctor if you have questions.

14. No tests can diagnose coronary heart disease.

Fiction. A treadmill test (or exercise stress test) can help diagnose atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the heart's arteries. Other tests include a radionucleotide myocardial perfusion stress test. This can also help diagnose a narrowing of the arteries in your heart. But the gold standard test is a cardiac catheterization (coronary angiogram). This test lets your doctor see any blockages in your heart's arteries.
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