Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America, and although there are some risk factors you can’t really change, such as family history, there are also a number of risk factors that are modifiable and can change the outcome of your health.
The first thing I tell my patients is they have to quit smoking. That’s the biggest modification we need to make. If you are a smoker, then you are at risk of heart disease and stroke.
If a patient does nothing else but quit smoking, that’s probably the biggest benefit you can give your body. Smoking is hard to give up. It takes people on average 8 to 9 times of trying to stop and starting back. That’s the natural progression of how people quit. Each time you go through that cycle, your chances of success go up.
Know your numbers
The next best way to know if you are at risk is to know your blood pressure and cholesterol. Only about half of the people who have high blood pressure know they have it. That’s why it is known as the silent killer.
The nice thing about blood pressure and cholesterol, I have found in my own experience with patients, is those are things that can be monitored. It gives a patient something attainable they can look at and see if they’ve made progress toward something helping them long term.
The biggest misconception about heart disease is that I don’t think people have a good firm grasp on how much your lifestyle really affects your risk. As a physician, we have to educate the patient that it’s more about small pieces that contribute to a high risk. We generally can’t point to one single “a ha” thing that explains why they will have heart disease in the future.
So we have to first identify those patients who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or who smoke. The next tier of identifying risks is to find those overweight individuals who have pre-diabetes or diabetes.