Everyone knows they should do certain things to prevent heart attack or stroke – eat a healthy diet, exercise, quit smoking and maintain healthy weight (see details, below).
But if you knew you were at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years, would you actually follow that advice?
Now, with a little information and technology, you can know your risk. And by following through on your physician’s advice, you can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke – the #1 and #4 causes of death in the U.S.
How? The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have released a CV Risk Calculator and additional prevention guidelines in support of their 2013 cholesterol guidelines for prevention of cardiovascular disease.
You can access the free online risk calculator at My.AmericanHeart.org. Scroll down on the page until you see a link to the CV Risk Calculator. Or, go to the App Store for iPad and iPhone or to Google Play for the Android app.
The Risk Calculator uses 2013 guidelines to show your personal risk factors. The previous guidelines, issued in 2004, addressed only LDL cholesterol, often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol. The new guidelines focus on many more details that make up your personal risk factors for heart disease or stroke. The information required to estimate your heart and stroke risk includes age, gender, race, total cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, use of medication to lower blood pressure, diabetes status and smoking status.
This is a fantastic tool. The calculator will give your 10-year and lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease. You’ll also get recommendations, based on your results, as to whether you would benefit from cholesterol-lowering medication in addition to following your physician’s advice on diet, exercise, smoking and weight. In addition, you get access to this useful reference material:
- Understanding My Cardiovascular Risk
- Diet and Physical Activity Recommendations
- Weight Management Recommendations
- Blood Cholesterol Management Recommendations
- Groups that Benefit from Statin Therapy
- Common Cardiovascular Terms
I encourage you to take your risk information to your family practice provider, internist or cardiologist to set a plan of action and to review the risks and benefits of medication.
Lifestyle changes to manage your heart attack and stroke risk
What if your 10-year heart disease risk is a little high, not terrible, and the thought of medication scares you? You should still talk to your provider, but know that there are some lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk.
- Follow a heart-healthy diet, like the DASH diet.
- Exercise regularly. How much exercise is recommended for you? Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Physical Activity Guidelines.
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight. According to the American College of Cardiology, research shows that losing only 3 – 5 percent of body weight can improve your triglycerides (a form of cholesterol) and sugar, and reduce your chance of getting diabetes. If you lose more than 5 percent of your weight, it may lower your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, too.
Knowing your numbers
Knowing your cardiovascular risk is a very important step toward better health and well-being. If you haven't had your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, then get in to see your family care provider for a wellness exam and health screening! Or, visit a local health fair where screenings are offered, such as the free women's heart health event Feb. 19, sponsored by the Parkview Heart Institute. Read more at Parkview.com.
The results and recommendations provided by the CV Risk Calculator are intended to inform but do not replace clinical judgment. Therapeutic options should be individualized and determined after discussion between you and your care provider.