Americans Not Doing Enough to Control Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease remains the number one killer of people in the United States, but most Americans are not doing enough to control their risk factors finds a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 100 million adults, nearly half of the US adult population, have either untreated high blood pressure or unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Control of Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels Can Save Lives
Last month, the American Heart Association projected that the costs of heart disease in the United States would triple between now and 2030, to more than $800 billion a year.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, says, “Although we’re making some progress, the United States is failing to prevent the leading cause of death – cardiovascular disease – despite the existence of low-cost, highly effective treatments.”
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Unfortunately, because hypertension itself usually does not have symptoms, many have it for years without knowing. The CDC estimates that one third of those with high blood pressure do not get treated for it and half do not have it fully under control. During this time, pressure on the cardiovascular system can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Normal blood pressure for an adult is less than 120 systolic (top number) and less than 80 diastolic (bottom number). Prehypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is 120-139/80-89 and the majority of patients will progress to Stage 1 hypertension unless steps are taken to prevent it.
Cholesterol levels in the United States are also out of control. A third of US adults have dyslipidemia (unhealthy levels of cholesterol) and half of them remain untreated. The CDC estimates that as many as two-thirds do not have cholesterol fully under control.
While people without health insurance are the least likely to have their heart disease risks under control, the CDC states that more than 80% of those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels have public or private health insurance. They simply are not taking the appropriate steps for getting the conditions under control.
While the CDC calls for more comprehensive policy and system changes to help more people get healthcare and to ensure that healthcare providers work better with patients to get them the appropriate screenings and medications, there is still so much that an individual can do to control his or her own risk factors. Diet, exercise, smoking cessation and stress management are healthy habits that can be undertaken to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels closer to normal in the majority of patients.
Many of the following changes will benefit both high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and while each can be implemented individually, patients receive the most benefit from combining the measures:
1. Follow a healthy eating plan. The NHLBI recommends the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The plan focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that are lower in sodium, fat and cholesterol.
2. Do enough regular physical activity. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most or all days of the week. These include brisk walking, dancing, riding a bike, or even working in a garden.
3. Maintain a healthy weight. Monitoring portion sizes, choosing lower calorie foods, and exercising daily can help you reach a more ideal weight. Even a 10% body weight reduction can have big health benefits.
4. Manage your stress. Chronic stress can raise blood pressure and the risk of a cardiovascular event such as heart attack. Exercise can help, as can meditation, calming music, yoga, or therapy.
5. Quit smoking. Smoking can damage your blood vessels further plus increase other health risks such as the risk of cancer. Talk to your doctor about the many programs to help you quit.