We have talked about this many times and your health care team has brought these up as well. The reason we don’t stop talking about these major risk factors is because for the most part they are avoidable or the very least manageable. We want you to do everything you can to lessen your risk of heart disease.

Some of the risk factors are not controllable such as family history and age so it is important that you work on those that you can change.


You knew this was going to be on the list. Smoking damages more than just your heart, and your lungs. Your cardiovascular system, brain, skin, hair, and more are all negatively impacted by tobacco products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) smoking is “the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.”

Smokers are up to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked daily. A smoker is likely to suffer a heart problem or heart attack at least 10 years sooner than a nonsmoker.

Smokers suffer from chronic lung disease more than a non-smoker. Bronchitis and emphysema are the most common.

Smoking is linked to many types of cancer besides Lung cancer. Cancers of the kidney, urinary tract, mouth, colon and more are attributed to be caused by smoking.

Dangers of secondhand smoke. If you do not smoke but are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke you are still at risk for cancer, lung disease and heart disease. A recent study showed that people exposed to secondhand smoke were at a 60% increased risk of heart disease.

Low tar and low nicotine cigarettes do not reduce the risks of heart disease from smoking. There is only one way to start undoing the damage to your body from smoking and that is to quit or if you do not smoke, DO NOT START! For more information on quitting smoking visit How Smoking Affects Heart Health.

High Blood Pressure

This is another risk factor that you most likely are aware of. High blood pressure (or Hypertension) is a risk for kidney disease, congestive heart failure and other heart diseases. It is also the most significant factor in strokes.

Even if your blood pressure is only slightly high you are still at an increased risk for these conditions.

Recent research show that there has been a 305 increase of adults in the United States with high blood pressure over the last several years. Researchers noted that they are seeing blood pressure levels substantially increase for children and teens in the U.S. This makes them more likely to develop hypertension in adulthood.

Family history plays a role in high blood pressure. If you have a family history of high blood pressure you are more likely to develop it too. You cannot control family history but you can be aware of it and take steps manage your blood pressure. Age is another factor you cannot control.

Take Control of Risk Factors

What you can do is to take control of risk factors that you can manage such as weight and diet. Keeping a healthy weight and watch your intake of salt, fats, etc. will help to keep your risk lower.

High blood pressure is known as the silent killer. It is silent because there typically are not any symptoms. Since you don’t have something reminding you that there is a problem many people don’t pay attention to their blood pressure. Understanding your risks and what you need to do to reduce them will help you pay attention to your numbers.

If you are monitoring your blood pressure at home or with your healthcare team you will know if your pressure starts creeping up. Your doctor may tell you that you are prehypertension, this means that you have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. Now is the time to take steps to prevent hypertension.

What is Blood Pressure?

High Blood PressureIt is the amount of force exerted by the blood against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure is necessary to get blood to all of the body’s organs. There are two number when talking blood pressure such as 120/80. You may hear that referred to as 120 over 80.

The first number is the systolic and it is the amount of force used when the heart beats. The second number is the diastolic and is the pressure that exists in the arteries between heartbeats. These are measure in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

Blood pressure can change frequently and your healthcare provider may check it on several different days before deciding if it is too high. Your blood pressure numbers determine if you are prehypertensive or hypertensive.

Both numbers do not need to be high for you to be at risk. If either number is higher than normal you need to address it.

Understanding Risk

High blood pressure more than any other category increases heart disease risk. BUT, the second category, prehypertension will also increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. The aim should always be for normal blood pressure levels.

People 50 or older are more likely to develop high systolic blood pressure (first number). If your systolic pressure is 150 mmHg or higher you are more likely to develop cardiovascular and kidney diseases, even if your diastolic blood pressure (second number) is in the normal range.

If you have high blood pressure you need to take steps to control it. There are two ways you can reduce your blood pressure, lifestyle changes and medication.

Changing your Lifestyle

If you have high blood pressure you may be able to control it by losing weight if you are overweight. Getting regular physical activity, changing eating habits and cutting back on alcohol all can help you avoid medication to control your blood pressure.

A special eating plan called DASH can help you lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” Download the DASH Dietary Plan.

By following the DASH plan and reducing your sodium use, you will likely reduce your blood pressure even more.

Taking Medication

Congestive Heart DiseaseIf after making lifestyle changes your blood pressure remains high your doctor will likely prescribe medicine. The medication may reduced your blood pressure and your risk of a heart attack, heart failure or stroke.

Just because you are taking medication does NOT mean you don’t have to make lifestyle changes. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes make the medicine more effective. Plus if you are successful with the changes you make you may be able to gradually reduced the dosage.

If your doctor prescribes medication to lower your blood pressure and you notice unpleasant side effects, do not stop taking the medication without first talking to your healthcare team. Changing the dosage or changing to a different type may alleviate the symptoms. There are many options that are very effective, talk with your doctor about which one is right for you.


It is very important to take your blood pressure medication exactly as prescribed. If you are unsure make sure to ask your healthcare provider any questions before you leave their office.

High Blood Cholesterol

Another major risk factor for heart disease is high blood cholesterol. The higher your numbers the greater your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.

Cholesterol levels can usually be managed with diet, and it is important that you watch your levels regardless of your age.

Cholesterol and Your HeartHigh Cholesterol

You may have heard that your body needs cholesterol to function, so what is the big deal about high cholesterol? You have high cholesterol when your lifestyle adds more than your need. Your body makes all the cholesterol your need to function normally.

Extra cholesterol and fat circulating in the blood can build up in the walls of the arteries and affect the blood flow to the heart. Plaque makes the arteries narrower and narrower causing less blood to get to the heart. Blood carries oxygen to your hear and if your heart is oxygen deprived you may suffer chest pain. If the artery is completely block you may have a heart attack.

LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol because too high a level can lead to buildup in your arteries eventually creating a blockage.

HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove cholesterol from your body. This helps prevent the buildup in your arteries.

High blood cholesterol is another symptomless condition and you have to be diligent in knowing your numbers by getting it checked regularly.

Starting in your early 20’s you  should have a lipoprotein profile to check your cholesterol levels. Make sure to get those numbers and understand what they are telling you. Your doctor can help you decide about lifestyle changes or medication to bring your levels under control. Talk with your doctor about how often you should be checked.

Total Cholesterol

Total cholesterol is a measure of the cholesterol in all of your lipoproteins, including the “bad” cholesterol in LDL and the “good” cholesterol in HDL. An LDL level below 100 mg/dL is considered “optimal” or ideal. As you can see in the accompanying table, there are four other categories of LDL levels. The higher your LDL number, the higher your risk of heart disease. Knowing your LDL number is especially important because it will determine the kind of treatment you may need.

Your HDL number tells a different story. The lower your HDL number, the higher your heart disease risk.

Your lipoprotein profile test will also measure levels of triglycerides, which are another fatty substance in the blood.

Read more about Lipoprotein Profile, LDL, HDL and Triglycerides in our last article “What are your numbers?”

Dr. Bobish

Dr. Bobish and her team’s goal is to help you reduce your risk of heart disease. Helping you to understand your risk factors and make healthful lifestyle changes.

Remember regardless of age or current state of health it is never too late to start protecting your heart. It is also never too soon and the sooner you act the better. Follow us on Facebook to see our latest post helping to keep you heart healthy. You can also explore all our articles that offer diet and exercise tips, recipes and information on procedures and heart disease.

Dr. Bobish and her team focus on preventative care and are here to support you. Alpine Cardiology provides patients with education as well as compassionate care and treatment. We are committed to keeping you healthy and heart smart! Request an appointment at 989-448-7002

Guide to a Healthy Heart

We are committed to keeping Northern Michigan healthy and heart-smart!

Over the next several months we will be publishing a series of articles that will become A Guide to a Healthy Heart. By breaking these guidelines into chapters we are able to offer more in depth information on the topics. Watch our Facebook page or website for the latest article.

Alpine Cardiology’s goal is to give you a better understanding of how to live a healthy lifestyle and to take care of your heart. To take the mystery out of what the tests are and what they mean. To encourage you to talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and how to reduce your risk. The more you know and understand the more likely you are to be successful in reducing risk and having a healthier lifestyle.

Links to published chapters are below if you would like to explore the guide more.

  1. Why should I care about heart disease?
  2. Heart Disease – What you need to know
  3. Are you at risk of developing heart disease?
  4. What are your numbers?
  5. Major Risk Factors
  6. Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk
  7. Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol
  8. Weight and Heart Disease
  9. Diabetes and Heart Disease
  10. What Else Affects Heart Disease
  11. Risk Factors Specific to Women
  12. Taking Charge: An Action Plan for Heart Health
  13. Give Your Heart a Little TLC
  14. Figuring Out Fat
  15. Aim for a Healthy Weight – Part 1
  16. Aim for a Healthy Weight – Part 2
  17. Time to be Active
  18. You Can Quit Smoking
  19. Aspirin – Take with Caution
  20. Heart Healthy is a Family Affair
  21. A Change of Heart