Two of the main reasons people have heart disease and strokes are high blood pressure and cholesterol – both are common, deadly, and preventable.
The term ‘heart failure’ means that your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Over time, conditions such as narrowed arteries in your heart – coronary artery disease – and high blood pressure gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.
While we can’t reverse many of the conditions that lead to heart failure, it is treatable. Medications can improve the symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer, and lifestyle changes like exercising, reducing salt consumption, managing stress, treating depression, and most important losing weight, can improve our quality of life.
The best way to prevent heart failure is to control the risk factors and conditions that cause it, like coronary artery disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Nearly two out of three adults with high cholesterol and about half of all adults with high blood pressure don’t have their condition under control.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a common condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems like heart disease.
Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries: the more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
You can have high blood pressure – hypertension – for years without any symptoms, but uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure typically develops over many years and affects nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately, it can be easily detected – and once you know it’s a problem, you can work with your doctor to control it.
Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. Although a few people with early-stage high blood pressure may have dull headaches, dizzy spells or a few more nosebleeds than normal, these symptoms generally don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe, and life-threatening, stage.
Most likely, you will have your blood pressure taken as part of your routine doctor’s appointment. Ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years starting at age 20. Your doctor will probably recommend more frequent readings if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Children three and older will usually have their blood pressure measured as a part of their annual checkup.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in the fats – lipids – in your blood. While the body needs cholesterol to continue building healthy cells, having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.
When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels that eventually make it difficult for enough blood to flow through the arteries. Your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack, and decreased blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but is often preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and medication can go a long way toward lowering it. Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol has no symptoms: a blood test is the only way to detect it.
If you’re over 20, ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test, then have your cholesterol re-tested every five years. If your test results aren’t within the desirable range, or if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors like smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend more frequent tests.