How Can I Reduce my Risk of Developing Heart Disease and Having a Heart Attack?

The most common disease of the heart is called coronary artery disease. This disease is also known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Coronary arteries provide oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the heart to keep it pumping strongly. Over time, fatty deposits called plaque can build up inside the coronary arteries. When the build-up of plaque narrows the arteries so much that only a small amount of blood can flow through to the heart, chest pain (also known as angina) can occur. Sometimes, a blood clot will completely block the blood flow to a coronary artery causing a heart attack - a medical emergency.

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by understanding the risk factors that can cause it and by making the necessary changes. At least 80% of Canadians have at least one risk factor. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.

Risk factors you can't change:

There are some risk factors you can't change. However, you should know about them and how they might affect your health.

  • Family history - Your risk is higher if any of your immediate family members (mother, father, sibling child) have had a heart attack (especially before the age of 65 in women and 55 in men) or if they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
  • Age - As you grow older, your chances of developing heart disease increases. Men over 45 years and women over 55 years or who have finished menopause are at an increased risk for heart disease.
  • Sex - Men have a higher risk than women. The risk for women increases after menopause.

Risk factors you can change:

Your heart health depends a lot on the lifestyle you choose. If you're aware of the risk factors you can change, you can make changes that will help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Risk factors you can change
The risks The changes
Smoking Stop smoking.
High-fat diet Limit your fat intake.
High blood cholesterol levels Reduce your blood cholesterol to recommended levels.
Overweight Reduce to and maintain a healthy weight.
Physical Inactivity Engage in regular physical activity.
Hypertension Reduce to and maintain your blood pressure at a normal level.

Adapted from an article by Alberta Health Services. This FAQ appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site and has been edited for publication by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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