Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for about 25 percent of all deaths in the country.
If you have a family history of heart disease, there’s a greater chance that you’ll also have cardiovascular issues.
The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that certain ethnic groups are at increased risk for conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease. Black Americans have the highest rate of high blood pressure in the world and a high rate of diabetes. The AHA also estimates that one in three Hispanic adults have high blood pressure, and about half suffer from high cholesterol. Knowing these statistics can help you better understand your own risks.
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Heart Disease in Families: What Should You Discuss with Your Doctor?
Tell your doctor if your family — especially grandparents, parents, or siblings — has or had heart disease. A family history of cardiovascular disease is something that may warrant additional testing or monitoring.
It’s also important to share your blood relatives’ history of diabetes, high cholesterol, or other related conditions. However, these are risk factors — along with high blood pressure and obesity — that you can control.
Maintaining Your Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease can be hereditary in part, but behavior can modify your risk significantly. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends taking these steps:
- Quit smoking: Using tobacco products increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Manage your blood pressure: High blood pressure puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular problems. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If there’s a problem, your doctor can recommend ways to lower it.
- Watch your cholesterol levels: Cholesterol can clog your arteries and cause coronary artery disease or heart attack. If you’re unable to manage your cholesterol levels with diet and lifestyle changes, they can be controlled by medicines.
- Control your diabetes: If you have diabetes, your risk of heart disease doubles. Uncontrolled diabetes can damage your blood vessels and nerves. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels helps care for your heart.
- Exercise regularly: What better way to strengthen your heart than by exercising? Cardio and strength training improve circulation and heart health and help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Consider other lifestyle changes: By limiting your alcohol consumption, managing stress, and getting proper sleep, you’ll help your heart support your whole body. These lifestyle factors can have a positive impact on your overall health.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight: Obesity and excess weight contribute to diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. A diet high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits— with less alcohol and fewer processed foods — is better for your body and your heart.
Schedule regular visits with your doctor to make sure you’re doing all you can to maintain your cardiac health.
Warning Signs for Heart Attacks and Strokes
Heart attacks and strokes are life-and-death emergencies where every second counts. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately:
- Common heart attack symptoms include chest discomfort — pressure, tightness, fullness, or pain — that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and returns. You may also experience shortness of breath and pain or discomfort in your arms, back, jaw, stomach, or neck. Other symptoms include breaking out in a cold sweat or feeling lightheaded or nauseated.
- Stroke symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body, plus difficulty walking and trouble speaking.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.