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Silent heart attack symptomsYou can reduce your risk of having a heart attack even if you already have coronary heart disease (CHD) or have had a previous heart attack. The key is to take steps to prevent or control your heart disease risk factors.

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Here are some steps to take to help reduce your risk of having a heart attack:

Stop smoking
Lower high blood pressure
Reduce high blood cholesterol
Aim for a healthy weight
Be physically active each day
Manage diabetes

Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks in both men and women. It also increases the risk of a second heart attack among survivors. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives have an even greater risk than smoking alone. The good news is that quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of heart attack. One year after quitting, the risk drops to about one-half that of current smokers and gradually returns to normal in persons without heart disease. Even among persons with heart disease, the risk also drops sharply one year after quitting smoking and it continues to decline over time but the risk does not return to normal.

Lower High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure makes the heart work harder. It increases the risk of developing heart disease, as well as kidney disease and stroke. Also called hypertension, it usually has no symptoms. Once developed, it typically lasts a lifetime.

To help prevent or control high blood pressure, you should:

  • Lose excess weight
  • Become physically active
  • Follow a heart healthy eating plan, including foods lower in salt and sodium
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • If you are prescribed a medication, take it as directed.

Reduce High Blood Cholesterol

The level of cholesterol in the bloodstream greatly affects the risk of developing heart disease. The higher the level of blood cholesterol, the greater the risk for heart disease or heart attack.

Why? When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in the blood, it builds up in the walls of arteries. Over time, this buildup causes arteries to become narrowed, and blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off, a heart attack results.

Various factors that affect cholesterol levels are: diet, weight, physical acitivity, age, gender and heredity.

High blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms. You may not know if your blood cholesterol level is too high. So, it’s important to have your cholesterol measured. Adults age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked at least once every 5 years. It’s best to have a blood test called a lipoprotein profile. This test measures total cholesterol, “good” and “bad” cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood.

High cholesterol is treated with lifestyle changes: a heart healthy eating plan, physical activity, and loss of excess weight. However, if those do not lower it enough, you need to consult your doctor for medications.

Aim for a Healthy Weight

A healthy weight is crucial for a long and healthy life. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart attack. It also increases your risk of developing high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes-each of which also increases your chance of having a heart attack. If you are overweight, even a small weight loss, just 10 percent of your current weight, will help to lower your risk of developing those diseases.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight in order to stay healthy. Some adults need to avoid gaining weight and many need to lose weight. Losing weight and keeping it off depends on a change of lifestyle that combines sensible eating with regular physical activity, not a temporary effort to drop pounds quickly. If you need to lose excess weight, talk to your health care provider about developing an action plan, which includes a hearty-healthy, low-calorie, nutritious eating plan and physical activity.

Be Physically Active Each Day

Being physically active reduces the risk of heart-related problems, including heart attack. Physical activity can improve cholesterol levels, help control high blood pressure and diabetes, and manage weight. It also increases physical fitness, promotes psychological well-being and self-esteem, and reduces depression and anxiety.

Those who have already had a heart attack also benefit greatly from being physically active. Typically, most hospitals have a cardiac (or heart) rehabilitation program. A health care provider can offer advice about a suitable program.

To protect your heart, you only need to do 30 minutes of a moderate-intensity activity on most and, preferably, all days of the week. If 30 minutes is too much at one time, you can break it up into periods of at least 10 minutes each.

If you have been inactive, you should start slowly to increase your physical activity.

If you have coronary heart disease, it is very important to check with you health care provider before starting a physical activity program. This is especially important if you are over age 55, have been inactive, or have diabetes or another medical problem. Your health care provider can give you advice on how rigorous the exercise should be.

Manage Diabetes

Diabetes affects more than 16 million Americans. It damages blood vessels, including the coronary arteries of the heart. Up to 75 percent of those with diabetes develop heart and blood vessel diseases. Diabetes also can lead to stroke, kidney failure, and other problems.

Diabetes occurs when the body is not able to use sugar as it should for growth and energy. The body gets sugar when it changes food into glucose (a form of sugar). A hormone called insulin is needed for the glucose to be taken up and used by the body.

Because of the link with heart disease, it is important for those with diabetes to prevent or control heart disease and its risk factors. Besides diabetes, major risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, and overweight and obesity.

Read Testing For A Heart Attack, to learn more about the key heart attack tests.

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