What you need to know about heart disease

Health Column
By: Dr. Reeta Sharma
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The primary cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis, also known as thickening and hardening of the arteries. A heart attack occurs if an artery closes all the way or narrows so much that blood clot blocks the blood flow. Risk Factors Advancing age, gender and heredity are three risk factors for heart disease that can’t be controlled. Controllable risk factors include: High cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body’s cells. Two ways to lower your cholesterol are to exercise regularly and eat a diet low in saturated fat. High blood pressure. Your heart must work harder when your blood pressure is high. When this occurs for an extended time, the heart can enlarge and arteries can become scarred and hardened. You can treat it with medication and changes in your diet and lifestyle. Cigarette smoking. Smoking promotes heart disease by quickening the development of atherosclerosis, reducing your HDL (good) cholesterol and raising your blood pressure. Obesity. Your risk of heart disease increases if you are overweight. Obesity raises cholesterol and can lead to diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease. Drinking alcohol. Having one or two alcoholic beverages daily may reduce your risk of heart disease. Drinking more than this can raise blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Prevention You can reduce your risk of heart disease and a heart attack by seeing your doctor for regular checkups to evaluate your risk factors. You and your doctor can work together to control them. Cholesterol. You should have your cholesterol checked at least every five years if it’s under 200 mg/dl. You should check it more frequently if it’s higher. Blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years if it’s normal. You’ll need it checked more frequently if it’s high. Your doctor may want you to have more frequent visits if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Reetu Sharma is a cardiologist for Sutter Independent Physicians.