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Heart Month: Know Your Risk Factors

Heart Health
Author name: Lee Health


heart disease risk factors graphic

Note: This blog was updated in February 2022

Quick: Stop what you are doing and take a deep breath. Enjoy a moment of calm and relaxation and listen to your heart beat. How does it feel to you? Is it too fast or too hard? Are you breathing normally, or does your breath feel labored and restricted?

Your heart works fiercely night and day to propel blood through your body and supply organs with rich, life-giving oxygen, so it's essential to stop once in a while and take stock of how your heart is doing.

It’s ALSO essential for you to realize how easily you can change your habits and lead the kind of life that drastically cuts down the risk of heart disease – still the number one killer of men and women in the United States, according to The Heart Foundation. 

As we recognize American Heart Month, we hope you can use some of the info below. 

The checklist: Assess your risks

There are two big things that inevitably lead to heart trouble: High blood pressure and high cholesterol. When was the last time you checked with your doctor?

The point: You are never too young to start healthy habits. 

Feeling the pressure. Your blood pressure should be taken each year and fall within the normal range of 120/80. Talk to your doctor to determine what your goal should be since it can shift according to age and other health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Crazy cholesterol. This is bit more complex since there is “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. But bad cholesterol is a waxy substance that you get from food, and it can build up inside your arteries. Get your numbers checked. The American Heart Association says levels higher than 100 mg/dl can be acceptable in some cases, but inching higher than 130 is cause for concern.

As always – it’s your diet. We might get tired of hearing it, but it’s as simple as this: A healthy diet is your best weapon against heart disease. Whole grains, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Limit sweets and sugar, and concentrate more on a plant-based diet, according to Dr. Karla Quevedo, Lee Physician Group cardiologist.

Fiber and foods with a low glycemic index and low glycemic load will have less of an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, Quevedo says. This will help you avoid diabetes, which leads to a host of heart issues.

For the last time: Just quit smoking. The benefits of quitting smoking begin to appear after only a few months and reach that of a nonsmoker in several years.

Ease into exercise. Commit to 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week and 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week. If you have other health conditions that limit your capacity for exercise, you should stay as physically active as your condition allows.

Peek at that belly fat. Abdominal obesity is defined as a waist circumference greater than or equal to 102 centimeters—or 40 inches—in men and greater than or equal to 88 centimeters—or 35 inches—in women. Belly fat increases your risk of heart disease.

How stressed are you? Do you get mad a lot? Hold onto grudges? Are you stressed at work? Constantly worried? Can’t sleep? Your heart is feeling that weight.

“There is a link between psychological stress and atherosclerosis—which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries and a condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Quevedo says. “There is a correlation between depression, anger and stress and cardiovascular outcomes. Addressing those issues is another way you can positively impact your heart health.”

Invest in yoga, meditation, counseling, more exercise — whatever you need to lighten the load and feel a little easier.

Take care of your teeth. Did you know that periodontal gum disease has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease? Plaque buildup can cause bacteria to flow through your bloodstream. It might not be fun to visit the dentist, but a cleaning feels so good!

Sleep trouble. Do you snore? Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Researchers have found that not getting a good night’s sleep can lead to inflammation. And snoring might indicate sleep apnea, which can raise the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, or even a heart attack.

You won’t be able to change everything – age and genetic makeup among them – but you can take the time to stop, breathe, and make sure your heart is as healthy as possible.

Need a Cardiologist?

Lee Health provides comprehensive treatment options for a wide variety of conditions. Our Cardiology services page has all the information you need to get started: conditions, tests we perform, preventive care options, education, hospital services, new technology, links to pediatric services, and other essential information.

Want to find a Lee Health cardiologist in your area? Use our handy Find a Doctor portal.

Specialized Care and Clinics

The Heart Care Transition Clinic is a specialized medical office for cardiac patients recently discharged from the hospital to receive follow-up medical care. The Lee Health Heart and Vascular Institute Heart Care Transition team works with your cardiologist to ensure you get the follow-up care you need. It is important for patients with a diagnosis of heart failure, cardiomyopathy or A-fib to go to a follow-up medical appointment shortly after discharge from the hospital. Click the link above for more info and locations!

The Rapid Diuresis Clinic serves as a treatment option for those patients with heart failure or volume overload.

The Shipley Cardiothoracic Center at HealthPark Medical Center are national leaders in minimally invasive surgery. Beginning with valve surgery more than 10 years ago, Shipley has expanded to include robotic heart surgery, transcatheter valve repair and replacement and hybrid surgery for the treatment of atrial fibrillation. Shipley is the second-largest program in the state of Florida performing over 1,500 surgical cases annually. Nationally recognized as an IBM Watson Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospital, Shipley is the only program in Florida to receive this recognition for four consecutive years.

More Stories for Heart Month

  • Read about the different symptoms between men and women when it comes to heart disease.
  • Learn about patient-centered care.
  • The Watchman device helps control A-Fib and stroke risk.
  • A look at the symptoms and risk factors for heart valve disease.
  • Don't let anger affect your heart.

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