Ninety percent of the nearly 18 million heart disease cases worldwide could be prevented by people adopting a healthier diet, doing regular exercise, and not smoking.
“Heart disease is 90 percent treatable – everyone can prevent heart disease anywhere in the world, especially by eating foods that are low in salt and cholesterol, exercising regularly, and not smoking,” said Leslie Cho, M.D., Section Head for Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic. “Even if a person has a family history of heart disease, we can still prevent and treat heart disease thanks to incredible advances in medicine.”
Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, claiming 17.9 million lives in 2019, with three-quarters of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries according to the World Health Organization. Eighty-five percent of these cardiovascular disease deaths were due to heart attacks and strokes. Risk factors include unhealthy diets, low physical activity, smoking, alcoholism, and pollution.
Dr. Cho emphasized the importance of starting heart disease prevention in childhood – with cholesterol screenings as early as the age of seven. “We do not want to start children on cholesterol medication at that age, but rather to get them thinking about the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise,” said Dr. Cho. “We think of heart disease as an old person’s problem but, really, prevention should start in childhood.”
Industry guidelines, such as those of the American Heart Association, recommend that blood pressure screenings start at the age of 20 and be conducted every year. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but usually has no symptoms, and needs to be measured to be confirmed.
Patients should get their cholesterol checked at least every five years and more often if risk factors exist. In addition, their body mass index should be evaluated to see if they have a healthy body weight, and their blood glucose levels measured to see if they are at risk of diabetes, which can also be a contributing factor for heart disease.
Dr. Cho added that women have additional risk factors: “Women have what we call a 10-year gender gap. Due to estrogen, they tend to get heart disease in their 60s, in comparison with men, who get it in their 50s. However, having diabetes eliminates this gap for women. Hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy are also major risk factors for early heart disease among women. People with auto-immune disorders, such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or lupus, are at increased risk of heart disease, and 80 percent of people with autoimmune disease are women.”