Young or old, slim or overweight, male or female: Heart disease does not
discriminate. We're all at risk for heart disease, still one of the top health
conditions in the United States.
Over time, symptoms leading to heart disease -- such as plaque buildup in
arteries, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol -- can cause
havoc in your body without your knowledge. But eventually, something has to
give -- either a heart attack gets your
attention, or you realize the significant role your cardiovascular system plays
in your well-being. That's when you turn your lifestyle around by tossing out
your cigarettes, exercising, and eating healthy, just for starters.
And if you think heart disease can't happen to you, think again. These three
different people from three walks of life all had their health challenged by
heart disease. But now they are living well to tell the tale.
A software engineer from Johnstown, N.Y., Mike Haverly is 30 years old, a
husband, and a dad to a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, with another
baby on the way. At 6 feet 1 inch, he's always been a big guy, even in high
school when he peaked at 265 pounds -- a hefty weight he maintained for almost
With a diet that wasn't exactly the picture of nutrition and a relatively
sedentary lifestyle -- topped off by half a pack of cigarettes a day -- Mike
never gave his health a second thought, believing youth was on his side. Or was
"About a year ago, my wife and I decided it was time for life insurance
policies," says Haverly. "When they came to do the physicals, we were totally
surprised -- my blood pressure was through the roof."
Mike's blood pressure measured in at 160/130. Considering that a normal
reading is less than 120/80, and high is considered 140/90, his chart-topping
numbers made Mike and his wife start to worry -- and for good reason.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or kidney
failure, according to the American Heart Association.
Heart disease in young people not unusual
"Heart disease in young people is not unheard of at all," says Tracy L.
Stevens, MD, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas
City, Mo. "It's things like a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, alcohol, and
cigarette smoking that start to put them at risk at a younger age."
High blood pressure is a symptomless condition, meaning you only know you
have it if you get tested. Until then, your body is running in overdrive as the
increased pressure in your arteries puts strain on your entire cardiovascular
"I was scared, and so was my wife," says Haverly. "I was kind of in shock,
not knowing what having such high blood pressure could lead to. But the day I
found out was the day everything started to change."