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Cardiovascular disease risk can be diminished

BY DR. DAVID LIPSCHITZ Modified: December 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm •  Published: December 10, 2012

The risk of having cardiovascular disease — including heart disease or stroke — during a lifetime is 60 percent for men and 55 percent for women. Cardiovascular disease accounts for more deaths than the next seven causes combined. These facts highlight the importance of reducing as many risk factors as possible to stave off cardiovascular disease. Even in those individuals in whom every risk factor is rigorously controlled, 30 percent will develop — and perhaps die from — cardiovascular disease.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago attempted to define which factors, if corrected, led to the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. The study observed 50,000 men and women for many years. It determined that by the age of 45, lowering your total cholesterol to below 180, maintaining a blood pressure below 120 over 80, not having diabetes and not smoking staved off the time to developing cardiovascular disease by 14 years and promoted a better quality of life.

The study noted that at every age, women had a lower risk than men. It also found that after a person suffers from a cardiovascular illness, death occurred within an average of four years, regardless of age or sex.

This information highlights that every one of us is at risk of cardiovascular disease, and our lifestyle during our young adult years profoundly affects the chances of illness in later life. It is never too early to pay attention to your health.

It is also never too late. While the benefits are not as great, beginning to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, having an ideal weight, eating right and correcting underlying medical risk factors is the most effective way of reducing cardiovascular risk in the Medicare population of all ages. And the benefits of prevention are always greater than treating the disease.

We know that some of us are at a far greater risk than others. A strong family history of cardiovascular disease among parents, siblings and relatives increases risk by an additional 50 percent.

And a new research study shows that certain physical characteristics can be a harbinger of cardiovascular disease.

At the American Heart Association annual meeting, Danish scientists presented the results of a study of 11,000 men and women over the age of 40, showing that a series of physical characteristics appear to increase risk of heart disease by 40 percent to 50 percent. These include a receding hairline at the temples, baldness at the crown of the head, a crease in the ear and yellow fatty deposits around the eyelids.

Where you live and the time of the year affect risk of cardiovascular disease. Living at a high altitude tends to raise blood count, which increases blood pressure and causes more cardiovascular disease. There is also evidence that heart attacks and deaths from heart failure are 26 percent to 35 percent more common in the winter than the summer. This applies to sunny California and freezing South Dakota. The cause is not clear, but being more sedentary, exposed to more viral infections and being at a higher risk of depression may be contributing factors.

The greater an individual person's risk, the more important it is that aggressive approaches at prevention be instituted at a younger age. If family history or physical characteristics suggest a high risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels should be measured at age 20 and blood pressures frequently assessed. If levels are significantly abnormal, treatment to lower blood pressure and cholesterol should be considered. Even if there is no obvious increased risk, initial screening should occur at age 20 and, if everything is normal, every 10 years thereafter until age 50.

The profound impact of stress on the risk of cardiovascular disease also must be considered. The hormonal changes accompanying chronic stress lead to weight gain, elevated cholesterol, rising blood pressure that in turn greatly contributes to heart disease, and strokes.

Learning to be peaceful is just as — or even more important — than exercise, diet, maintaining an ideal weight and smoking cessation.

The more we know about cardiovascular disease, the better. The silent progression requires that we be continuously vigilant and intervene early.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at More information is available at:



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