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You Can Control Many Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Six of the major risk factors for heart disease can be modified, treated or controlled. "No one risk factor equals heart disease," says Alison D. Schecter, M.D., F.A.C.C., an assistant professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and co-director of the Women's CARE Program. "All are contributory." By keeping these risk factors in check, you'll help keep your heart running smoothly and reduce your chances of developing disease.

Quite simply, if you smoke, you should quit. "That's the most incredibly positive thing that someone can do for their health," says Dr. Schecter. Cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of premature death in the U.S. Smokers have a higher chance of developing clogged arteries and in turn, a heart attack.

Cigarette smoking is so hazardous to your heart that it can put a person under 50 years of age at a higher risk for heart disease than someone over 50 years of age. Just 24 hours after kicking the habit, your chance of a heart attack goes down.

High Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The first, the systolic pressure, is the pressure of your blood flow when your heart beats. The second, the diastolic pressure, is the pressure between heartbeats. Higher blood pressure numbers can mean that blood is having a harder time flowing due to reasons such as narrowed arteries or stiffened vessels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that blood pressure in all adults be checked every two years. Your blood pressure should be less than 140/90 mm HG, and less than 130/85 mm HG in people with diabetes, heart failure or renal insufficiency, other stresses on the cardiovascular system.

High Blood Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in fats in your blood and cells. The cholesterol in your body comes from your liver, which produces it, and your diet. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the "bad" cholesterol, is the major blood cholesterol. It can build up in your arterial walls, causing vessel-clogging plaques to form. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as the "good" cholesterol, seems to protect against heart attack by carrying cholesterol away from the arteries.

Total cholesterol and HDL in adults over the age of 20 should be measured at least every five years, according to the American Heart Association. For people without other risk factors, LDL levels should be lower than 200 mg/dL and HDL levels more than 35 mg/dL.