According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. Generally affecting the heart and blood vessels, CVDs include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and other conditions. 80% of CVD deaths are as a result of heart attacks and strokes and one third of these deaths affect people under 70 years of age.
Identifying those at highest risk of CVDs and ensuring they receive appropriate treatment can prevent premature deaths. Access to essential medicines and basic health technologies in all primary health care facilities is essential to ensure that those in need receive treatment and counselling.
Although this is a serious problem, millions of people worldwide find it challenging to control the risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease, while others do not know that they are at risk. A significant number of heart attacks and strokes can be avoided by taking note of major risk factors and undergoing lifestyle interventions and drug treatment where
Key risk factors include behavioural factors, such as smoking, bad diet, alcohol and lack of exercise, and physiological factors, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar or glucose which are linked to an individual’s socio-economic background.
What can be done to lower your risk of heart disease?
Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease so ensure that checks for blood pressure are done regularly, at least annually. If necessary, undertake lifestyle changes to prevent or control high blood pressure.
Watch the cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Increased cholesterol can clog your arteries and raise the likelihood of getting coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides may also raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women .Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Maintain a healthy weight. Controlling your weight can lower the incidence of other heart disease risk factors, including high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Eat healthy. Try to reduce saturated fats, sodium-rich foods and added sugars.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
Get regular exercise. Exercise assists to maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, all of which can lower the risk of heart disease.
Watch alcohol intake. Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain, both of which increase heart disease risks. Men should limit themselves to two drinks daily, and women one.
Avoid smoking. Cigarette smoking raises blood pressure, raising the possibility of heart attacks and strokes. For current smokers, quitting will reduce risks of heart diseases. Discuss with health care providers for assistance on how to quit.
Manage stress. Often overlooked as a factor for heart disease, stress can raise your blood pressure. Extreme stress can set off a heart attack. In addition, some common stress remedies such as overeating, drinking and smoking may be unhealthy. Look to wholesome stress remedies such as exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.
Manage diabetes. Diabetes doubles your risk of diabetic heart disease as high blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. Hence, it is essential to get tested for diabetes and control as much as possible.
Sleep well. Inadequate sleep will increase risks of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, all of which contribute to heart disease. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. Make sure that you have good sleep habits. If you have frequent sleep problems, contact your health care provider.