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Heart disease and stroke deaths don’t have to happen. That is the finding of a report from the CDC stating that more than 200,000 deaths in 2010 were preventable. While progress has been made since 2001, with the number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths decreasing by 30 percent, health care providers know there still is work that needs to be done. More than half of the 200,000 lives were under the age of 65.

“Coronary artery disease takes the lives of more people in the United States than any other disease every year,” explains Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Brendan Cavanaugh. “Many of these deaths could have been prevented with aggressive screening by a cardiologist.  All people over the age of 50 should be seen by a cardiologist at least once to talk about their risk factors for heart disease.”

For New Mexicans under the age of 65, they appear to be better off than their counterparts in the southern states, where experts believe your zip code can negatively influence your longevity more than genetics. Men are twice as likely as women to die a preventable death from heart disease or stroke. The key to turn the tide, providers agree is access to preventative health care long before problems arise.

“Checking cholesterol levels are only a piece of the puzzle, and often times fatal heart attacks happen in people with totally normal cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Cavanaugh.  “The biggest risk factors for a heart attack is having a primary relative who has suffered a cardiac event or having calcium in your heart arteries (calcium can be detected with something called a “calcium score” that can be ordered by your doctor.  This is not a blood test but rather an x-ray of the heart looking for plaque deposits).” 

Good News – You Can Change this Number

There is good news and that is you can make changes today to prevent having a heart attack or stroke. If we make positive changes to reduce our risk, we can help change that fact that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. Here are nine ways from the American Heart Association you can reduce your risk of a preventable death from heart disease.

  1. Don’t Smoke
  2. Eat a healthy diet
  3. Reduce blood cholesterol to less than 200 mg/dL total
  4. Lower blood pressure to less than 120/80 mmHg
  5. 30 minutes of physical activity every day
  6. Maintain a healthy weight
  7. Properly manage diabetes
  8. Reduce stress
  9. Limit alcohol to less than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women

Dr. Cavanaugh advises patients to take a close look at their risk factors and start the conversation with their doctor. “Heart disease is often overlooked by people in this country because it is so prevalent, but the more aggressive we are with screening, the greater success we will have at preventing fatal events,” he adds. 

Do you know your risk of heart disease? Take this online assessment. It may be time to start making some life-saving changes.

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