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How to Wreck Your Heart

What not to do for your heart's health.
By
WebMD Feature

When it comes to the heart’s health, there are some things you can’t control -- like getting older, or having a parent with heart disease. But there are many more things you can do to lower the chances of sabotaging your ticker.

“An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure in this instance,” says Gregg Fonarow, MD, an American Heart Association spokesman and associate chief of UCLA's division of cardiology.

To help your heart keep on keeping on, here are 10 things not to do.

1. Keep smoking.

A major cause of heart disease, smoking raises blood pressure, causes blood clots, and lowers HDL (good cholesterol) levels. And it’s the number one preventable cause of premature death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association.

Even though it may be one of the most difficult habits to quit, the rewards of stopping smoking are perhaps the greatest and most immediate.

When you toss the smokes, your heart risk goes down within just a few days of quitting. Within a year, your risk is cut by half. After 10 years of living smoke-free, it’s as if you never smoked at all, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, cardiologist and medical director of the New York University Women’s Heart Program.

2. Ignore that chest pain.

When your heart literally aches and you don’t know why, it’s time to get checked out.

If you have chest pains while exercising, that’s a red flag. But if it happens after a heavy meal, it’s more likely to be your stomach causing trouble, says Goldberg, who is an American Heart Association spokeswoman and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health.

Heart pain can feel more like a pressure rather than actual pain. People tend to feel it in the front of their chest, with the sensation sometimes extending into the shoulders, up into the jaw, or down the left arm. If you feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest and you’re breaking out in a sweat, that’s an urgent matter. Call 911.

Regardless of what you’re feeling or when, even a doctor can’t tell if you’re in real trouble over the phone. So you have to seek medical attention in person to get a definitive answer for chest pain.

3. Just accept that it’s in your genes.

Having a family history of heart disease is a strong risk factor for predicting your own chances of heart trouble.

Having a parent who has had an early heart attack doubles the risk for men having one; in women the risk goes up by about 70%, according to an American Heart Association report from December 2010.

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