Heredity, Race Can Augment Your Risk Of Heart Attack

By Majid Khan, MD

Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. It’s important to remember, especially during April – New Jersey’s Minority and Multicultural Health Month, that heredity and race are major risk factors that significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

Just as it is true that children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves, studies have confirmed that African-American men and women have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. The same is true of people 65 years or older, are a man, or a woman after menopause. These are risk factors which we cannot control, so it’s very important for all of us, especially African-Americans, to manage what we can control.

Contributing risk factors for heart disease are those that can be modified, treated or controlled by changing your lifestyle or taking medication. There are six factors that when combined significantly increase risk. Everyone should do their best to address these factors in their daily lives.

Tobacco smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2-4 times that of nonsmokers. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than people who’ve never smoked. Cigarette smoking is a powerful independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease.

As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other factors are present, this risk increases even more. A person’s cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity and diet.

High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. This stiffening of the heart muscle is not normal, and causes the heart to work improperly.

An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the physical activity, the greater the benefit becomes.

People with excess body fat, especially at the waist, are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart’s work. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

Diabetes greatly increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Risk is even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled. If you have diabetes, it’s extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it. The American Heart Association’s website has a heart attack risk calculator that can serve as a starting point for those looking to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Longtime Middlesex County practitioner Dr. Khan is a cardiologist and internist and is affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center. He has an office in the Medical Pavilion at Woodbridge, Iselin. To make an appointment, call 1-732-906-0330 or 1-800-DOCTORS.

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