In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
Atherosclerosis is the process of narrowing and hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup in the inner lining of arteries. It's the key cause of heart attacks and strokes and the No. 1 killer in the U.S.
When it comes to developing health risks from atherosclerosis, some people are at higher risk than others. But because atherosclerosis is silent until it's advanced, estimating one's health risk takes some educated guesswork.
How can you determine your risk? The risk factors are easy...
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible -- risk factor for heart disease. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke today will lower your heart disease risk to that of a nonsmoker over time.
Eating trans fats. Synthetically created to extend the shelf life of baked goods and snack foods, trans fats can raise your level of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, too. Best bet? Check the label for trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils) and avoid them entirely.
Adding salt. Eating a lower-salt diet can lower your blood pressure by five points, which for many people can mean one less prescription to buy.
Gaining weight. Processed food, oversized portions, and increased screen time have added inches to our waistlines and layers of risk to our hearts. Losing weight can help.
Giving up on medications. No one likes to take pills. But blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes medications will also reduce your likelihood of a heart attack. Talk to your doctor about a medication regimen that will work for you, then stick with it.