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Warning Signs & Risk Factors
Coronary or heart disease is deadly – America's No. 1 killer – but early detection may make all the difference. Get to know the warning signs and, if you are experiencing one or all of these symptoms, seek treatment immediately.
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, tight squeezing or pain in the center of chest, lasting more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to shoulders, neck or arms.
- Chest discomfort, with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.
Get help fast, even if the symptoms go away. If you have these symptoms, or see any of them in another person, don't wait. Call 911!
Several factors increase the risk of developing blockages in the arteries or vascular system. If these blockages are in the heart, it's called coronary artery disease. If they're in the brain, it's cerebrovascular disease, and if the blockages are in the legs, it's called peripheral vascular disease.
These blockages can cause heart attacks, angina (chest pain), strokes and claudication (leg pain with walking). Reducing your risk factors can decrease the chances of getting cardiovascular disease. If you already have heart disease, reducing these factors will decrease the chances that you will develop further blockages.
What You Can't Change
- Increasing age: As we age, we may gradually build up blockages in the arteries, even if we have no other risk factors. The risk goes up for men over 45 years old and for women over 55. About four out of five people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older.
- Male gender: Men have a greater risk of heart disease, and it can occur at an earlier age. Women's risk increases after menopause, when it can be almost as high as men's.
- Heredity/race: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African-Americans have more severe hypertension (high blood pressure) than Caucasians, and a higher risk of heart disease.
What You Can Change, Treat or Modify
- Smoking: Smokers are at two-to-four times greater risk for a heart attack than nonsmokers. Chronic exposure to smoke – such as second-hand smoke – may also increase the risk of heart disease.
- High blood pressure or hypertension: High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) can increase the heart's workload, causing the heart to enlarge and grow weaker over time.
- High or abnormal blood cholesterol levels: The higher your cholesterol (total cholesterol 240 mg/dL or higher), the more likely you'll develop heart disease. You can also be at risk if your HDL (“good”) cholesterol is less than 35 mg/dL.
- Physical inactivity: Lack of physical exercise (less than 30 minutes at least three days a week) is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
- Weight: Even if there are no other risk factors, people with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease.
- Diabetes control: Uncontrolled diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Stress: The way a person responds to stress may contribute to heart disease risk.