Men's Health

Heart Disease: Risks and Resources

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 700,000 a year and disabling many. The disease may be on the rise for the first time in several decades, suggests a study in this month's Archives of Internal Medicine.

Some risk factors can't be changed, such as age (most who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older), sex (men are at greater risk than women) and family history. More-controllable risk factors include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, excess body weight and diabetes. Lifestyle changes (primarily diet and exercise) and medication (such as statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs) can greatly reduce heart risk. Limiting stress and alcohol consumption can also help.

To estimate your heart risk, see the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's 10-year risk calculator among the assessment tools on its Web site.

Warning signs of a heart attack may include chest pain or discomfort; pain or discomfort in other areas of the body such as one or both arms, the back, jaw or neck; shortness of breath; and/or a feeling of light-headedness. If you suspect a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Getting prompt emergency attention can be critical to survival.

Numbers to live by:

* Body mass: A normal body mass index (a measure of weight relative to height) is 18.5 to 24.9. To learn your BMI:

* Blood pressure: Less than 120/80.

* Cholesterol: Less than 200 total, LDL below 100, HDL above 60.

* Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL. A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that lowering both triglycerides and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) is more effective in preventing heart disease than lowering LDL alone. Study participants who reduced their LDL to less than 70 mg/dL and their triglycerides to less than 150 mg/dL had a lower risk for heart disease than others.

Some resources:

American Heart Association,

American Stroke Association,

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,

National Library of Medicine,

Sources: American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NHLBI.

-- Sally Squires, Susan Morse

© 2008 The Washington Post Company