Fighting Heart Disease On All Fronts

Health : heart disease: heart and heart rhythmn with a caduceus
Multiple risk factors magnify the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It's important to tackle all of them to improve the chances of preventing heart disease, stresses The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

Some risk factors can't be controlled, such as age, race, or a family history of heart disease, she notes. But, Senay adds, there are changes that can and should be made to tackle the risk factors we can control — such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, risk of diabetes, and weight.

Senay also points out that it's important not to forget any of them, because the benefits of lifestyle changes aren't going to be as great if you don't tackle them all.

On The Early Show Friday, Senay

as they relate to the bigger picture of heart disease:

Most of us are aware by now that smoking and obesity are major risk factors for the development of heart disease, and the advice in dealing with these factors hasn't changed: Quit smoking and lose weight.

But they're only part of the equation. A good diet and regular exercise are other important efforts people need to continue to make.

Cholesterol guidelines have been revamped in recent years. People really need to get tested, keep track of their cholesterol numbers and take steps to stay within the guidelines, Senay says.

People need to be aware of both "bad," or "LDL" cholesterol and "good," or HDL cholesterol, which helps keep the bad cholesterol down. Total cholesterol should be less than 200. Levels of good cholesterol should be above 40. Levels of bad cholesterol should be below 130, or below 100 if you already have heart disease.

There are dietary choices, such as avoiding saturated fats, that can be made to lower bad cholesterol. Getting regular exercise can help improve good cholesterol, and there are medications available if nothing else works.

High blood pressure is called "the silent killer," because there are no symptoms. But it's still a major risk factor for heart disease that you need to keep tabs on — and control if it's too high.

The ideal blood pressure numbers have been a moving target in recent years. Today, 120 over 80 is the upper limit of healthy blood pressure, and people with diabetes should keep it even lower.

The guidelines urge early intervention with lifestyle changes for pre-hypertension, or blood pressures between 120 over 80 and 139 over 89. Medications should be considered for people whose blood pressure is above 140 over 90.

Lifestyle strategies to control high blood pressure include losing weight, eating foods low in fat and salt and high in potassium, not smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and medication.