Get an idea of your risk for heart disease by assessing risk factors like: your age, gender, total cholesterol levels, HDL cholesterol level, and blood pressure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women and nearly 800,000 Americans experiencing a heart attack every year. You may already be taking steps to reduce your risk, but how do you know if you’re doing enough?
In 1948, the National Heart Institute (now known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, or NHLBI), started the Framingham Heart Study to learn more about heart disease and stroke. The researchers followed over 5,000 participants in Framigham, Massachusetts throughout their lifetimes to determine the common risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In 1971, a second-generation group—the children of the original group and their spouses—was enrolled.
As a result of this long-term study, scientists have determined key risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of experiencing heart disease or a heart attack over their lifetime. By tracking your risk factor, you can determine how aggressive you need to be in adopting lifestyle changes and treatments. Your Age
Your risk for heart disease increases as you age, regardless of your other risk factors. According to the NHLBI, the risk increases for men after the age of 45 and for women after the age of 55 (or after menopause). The hormone estrogen is thought to help protect the heart. This is why after menopause, when estrogen levels drop in a woman’s body, her risk of heart disease also increases.
Over time, the gradual buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries can become problematic. As you get older, the arteries may narrow. Sometimes, a blood clot can form, blocking the blood flow, which can cause a heart attack.
Men are at higher risk for heart disease than women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 to 80 percent of sudden cardiac events occur in men. So far, scientists aren’t sure why this is, though studies have indicated that sex hormones may be to blame.
A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that two sex hormones are linked to increased levels of LDL, “bad” cholesterol and low levels of HDL, “good” cholesterol. A new study published in 2012 in The Lancet indicated that the Y chromosome, which is unique to men, may also have something to do with it. Regardless of the reason, men are at a higher risk for heart disease overall, and tend to suffer from it at an earlier age. However, heart disease is also the leading cause of death for women.
Your Total Cholesterol Levels
Your total cholesterol, which is the sum of all the cholesterol in your blood, is a potential risk factor for heart disease. This is mainly because cholesterol is a key part of the plaque that can build up in your arteries. (Plaque consists of fat, calcium, and other substances.) The theory is that the more cholesterol you have in your blood, the more may be converted into plaque buildup in your arteries. The range of cholesterol levels is:
Normal: less than 200 mg/dL Borderline high: 200 to 239 mg/dL High: 240 mg/dL and above
The higher your total cholesterol levels, the higher your risk of heart disease.
Your HDL “Good” Cholesterol Levels
Scientists have discovered that all cholesterol is not the same. The so-called “good” cholesterol—HDL—is actually protective against heart disease. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but they believe that it helps to reduce inflammation, which contributes to heart health. It also helps shuttle cholesterol to the liver, where it can be processed out of the body. The general consensus is that the higher your HDL level, the lower your risk of heart disease. Generally:
HDL lower than 40 mg/dL increases your risk of heart disease. HDL above 60 may offer protection against heart disease. Your Smoking History
Overall, smoking increases your risk of heart disease. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes harm the heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis (artery narrowing)—even if you smoke only once in awhile. Fortunately, no matter how much or how long you’ve smoked, quitting will benefit your heart. For example:
Quitting reduces your risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Over time, quitting lowers your risk of artery narrowing. Quitting can help reverse heart and blood vessel damage.
Your Blood Pressure
The first number of your blood pressure reading can also give you a clue as to your risk of heart disease. This is called the “systolic” blood pressure, and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts. (The diastolic number measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart muscle relaxes.) The systolic measurement is considered more indicative of heart disease risk because it typically rises with age. This is due to increasing stiffness in the arteries and the long-term buildup of plaque. Here are some blood pressure guidelines:
Normal: less than 120 mm Hg Prehypertension: 120 to 139 mm Hg High blood pressure (stage 1): 140 to 159 High blood pressure (stage 2): 160 or higher
If you’ve already discovered that you have high blood pressure and you’re on medications to control it, you’ve automatically reduced your risk of a heart attack. Whether or Not You Have Diabetes
Many heart disease risk calculators have added diabetes to the list. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC), if you have diabetes, you’re at least twice as likely as someone who doesn’t have diabetes to have heart disease. Over time, high blood glucose levels (blood sugar) can increase the deposits of fatty materials in artery and blood vessel walls, increasing the chances for artery narrowing and hardening (atherosclerosis).
For a complete heart risk calculator, visit the American Heart Association. After answering a few simple questions about your blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar levels, for example, the site will tell you the percentage at which you’re at risk. Be sure to get regular checkups with your doctor to manage all your risk factors and keep your risk of heart disease as low as possible.
A Healthy Home
Added: 10/02/14 : 11:50:05
Your home should be a healthy haven — comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, unseen dangers throughout your home can threaten you and your family's well-being. And these are not the bump-in-the-night, paranormal kind of intruders either. Chemicals, germs, viruses, and other pests can do you harm if left unchecked. Healthline takes a look at some of the trouble spots around the home and offers solutions on how to maintain a safe and healthy home. Kitchen
Everyone gravitates to the kitchen. It is part restaurant, part entertainment center, and part family room. It's also ground zero for the most trouble spots in the home. Practically every surface is a magnet for bacteria, viruses, germs, roaches, and other pests. Sponges/Dish Towels
The humble sponge—no bigger than your palm—can hold mold, as well as thousands of germs and food-borne pathogens if not cleaned or stored properly.
Health Tip: Two things you can do: 1) Place the sponge in the dishwasher with the drying cycle on, or 2) get it wet and put it in the microwave to sanitize. (It will be very hot, so be careful taking it out.) Cloth dish towels can also harbor unhealthy microorganisms, even if they are only used for drying clean dishes. Wash them often using the hot cycle of your washing machine. Cutting Board
Never cut vegetables or fruit on the same cutting board that you use to slice raw meat, unless you thoroughly cleaned it between chops. Keeping veggies and raw meat separated will avoid cross contamination and the possible spread of salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria.
Health Tip: For added safety and peace of mind, have two cutting boards — one for raw meat and one for fruits, vegetables, and everything else. Countertops
Use a little counter intelligence by keeping all surfaces cleaned and sanitized after you cook. This extra step will help eliminate food bacteria such as campylobacter (a common cause of diarrhea) and will discourage roaches from feasting on the leftovers. These household pests can carry a number of germs and can also trigger asthma and allergies. Health Tip: Sanitize the counter (one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water will do the trick) after wiping down with soap and water. This extra step will help kill remaining germs. Bonus Tip: Keep a lid on possible roach infestation by washing dishes and utensils immediately after eating, storing food in tightly sealed containers, and keeping trash in a container with a top on it. Bedroom
Whether you sleep with a partner or not, you are never alone in bed. Dust, dust mites, and possibly pet dander, keep you company. These bed hogs add to poor air quality and can irritate the best of us — allergic and non-allergic alike - because dust mites produce waste and lay eggs. Add hair, dead skin, fungi, and pollen, and you get allergen-filled combination that can pack a wallop of nastiness to sensitive individuals.
Health Tip: Go undercover to fight these pests with zippered plastic mattresses and pillow covers. Once a week, wash all bedding in hot water (above 130 degrees F to kill dust mites), and vacuum uncovered mattresses regularly.
The toilet may be an easy mark as the usual suspect for potential health dangers in the bathroom. But it's for a reason you might not expect. Sure, you know to keep the bowl and seat clean, but how often do you clean the flush handle? Rotavirus, enterococcus, and other nasty pests can live here. Enterococcus can cause gastroenteritis while rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea among children.
Health Tip: Keep it sanitized with a disinfectant that specifically lists these unwanted guests on the label.
Floor to Ceiling
Mold can thrive in the bathroom, presenting a number of health problems from watery, itchy eyes to asthma attacks in certain individuals. Another danger lurking in your bathroom (and possibly throughout your house) is trichophyton. This fungus causes ringworm and athlete's foot and can be passed from one person's foot to the next via flooring.
Health Tip: Use a disinfectant designed to kill mold and fungus. After bathing or showering, wipe down the tub or shower walls and curtain with a towel or squeegee. Some shower curtains can even be laundered in the washing machine. Bonus Tip: Put tissues in their place. After use, don't leave them lying around the room or on top of the counter. Throw soiled tissues away, and empty the wastebasket daily. Rhinovirus — the main cause of the common cold — spreads easily when people touch contaminated surfaces then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. These viruses and other microorganisms can live on surfaces (tissues, remote controls, phones, etc.) for days. Throughout the House
They do more than welcome you into your home or a room. These handles (and virtually all surfaces in your home) carry staph (short for staphylococcus), a common bacteria. While usually not a threat, staph can be harmful if it enters your mouth, eyes, cuts, or scrapes and can cause a wide spectrum of problems. Health Tip: A good swipe with an antibacterial cleaner will keep staph and other harmful microorganisms at bay. Walls
If walls could talk, they would probably ask you to reconsider your paint choice—not the color but the type. Paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a huge source of indoor air pollution. These chemicals (also found in upholstery, textiles, and other building materials) can cause a number of health-related issues. Of critical concern are paints in older homes, as these might contain lead (the manufacturing of lead-based paint was banned in 1978).
Health Tip: Reduce your exposure to these toxic vapors by choosing low-VOC paints, milk paints, or whitewashes. In older homes, check for the presence of lead by hiring a licensed risk assessor or purchasing a lead home test kit at your local hardware store. If you discover lead in your home, inquire about lead-removal products at the hardware store or hire an experienced specialist to remove the lead.
Many carpets and the adhesives and padding needed for installation emit the same dreaded VOCs as paint. Some people experience flu-like symptoms after installing new carpet. Others complain of eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Health Tip: To avoid trouble, ask if the carpet can be aired out before installation. Also, open windows and doors and use fans to allow as much air to circulate as possible. Consider selecting carpet and related products that meet low VOC-emitting criteria for indoor air quality acceptance. Once in place, vacuum your carpets (and rugs) often to ease allergy-related problems due to dust and pet dander.
Bonus Tip: To help ventilate the room, open windows periodically, especially after installing new carpet or applying new paint on the walls. For any type of airborne VOC, consider using an air-purifier or houseplants to filter toxins out of the air.