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Dealing with a HIGH risk of heart disease

We detect a high risk of heart disease when we find any of the factors that can cause heart disease.

image of a heart with shining lights enclosed

Ideally individuals with high risks should be identified very early on so that treatment and other protective measures can be started.

But, what are these factors?

We will discuss them below but once you have one or more of these conditions, address them quickly with specific goals for treatment, which your doctor can help with.

Conditions that cause high heart disease risk

  • Age.
    • Older age is one of the risk factors for developing heart disease.
    • There is nothing you can do about your age.
    • But, simply being aware of this means that you consciously adopt measures to improve your other factors as you grow older.

  • Smoking.
    • One of the principal factors for heart disease is smoking.
    • Smoking causes damage to the tissues of the heart and blood vessels.
    • It also causes free radicals which promote inflammation that leads to heart disease making it one of the high heart disease risk factors.
    • Smoking leads to "ischemic" heart disease.
    • Ischemia means the blood supply to a tissue is restricted, meaning lower oxygen supply.
    • It can cause the death of tissues in the heart.
    • For blood vessels in other parts of the body, it causes narrowing so that the parts of the body those blood vessels supplies with oxygen lose nourishment and could die.
    • Problems like liver and kidney disease, skin ulcers and poor circulation to the lower parts of the body could result.
    • This is why 'STOPPING SMOKING' is key for reducing heart disease risk.
    • How can you stop smoking?
      • Support from someone who knows you are serious about stopping.
    • Trying to replace the smoking habit with a healthier alternative.
    • For example, Nicotine gum or patches.
    • Taking medicines that can help you stop smoking.

  • Alcohol.
    • The effect of too-heavy drinking progresses over time and with regular, large quantities of drinking.
    • How much alcohol is okay? Read this to learn more.
    • Generally, men and women should not take more than 7 units a week of alcohol.

  • Excess Weight.
    • The most direct effect is extra strain on the heart to pump blood around the body.
    • In addition, fatty tissue contains inflammatory molecules which contribute to developing tissue disease in the heart and other parts of the body.
    • Avoid 'fad diets' when trying to lose weight.
    • These aim for fast weight loss but are mostly ineffective.
    • They tend to cause a disruption to your metabolism, and make you overeat when the diet 'fails'.
    • Herbal supplements and slimming teas offer a similar weight loss effect, but there is no evidence they do cause weight loss.
    • By far, the best was to lose weight is a method that suits your lifestyle and practice.
    • This allows you to stick to any new habits or changes you need to make for a long period.
    • Realise that you add weight so much quicker than you lose it.
    • Aiming to lose weight at a slow pace is a better plan, as you can keep the weight off easier.
    • Just losing 1 kilo of weight every week can improve your blood pressure and overall health.

  • High Cholesterol Levels.
    • Cholesterol is an important molecule in our bodies.
    • It is necessary for the formation of Vitamin D for example, which is instrumental in healthy bone formation and contributes to the immune system.
    • Another function of Cholesterol is to create bile acids which are important in normal food digestion.
    • However excess cholesterol levels directly cause heart disease by forming plaques in the heart and blood vessels.
    • These plaques can make the vessels rigid and thinner inside so they can no longer allow free blood flow and therefore oxygen supply.
    • This condition, Atherosclerosis is one of the major risks for developing a heart attack or stroke.
    • How can we treat high cholesterol?
    • In many people, cholesterol builds up from diets high in saturated fats, carbohydrates and alcohol.
    • In others, it is inherited.
    • We treat high cholesterol by adopting a healthy diet rich in good fats, with moderate quantities of other food elements.
    • Cutting out high saturated fats from greasy food, processed meals, high-carb foods and alcohol promote normal cholesterol levels.
    • Many people will need special medication that reduced their cholesterol levels for example, 'statins'.

  • High Blood Pressure
    • High blood pressure is hypertension. We talk a lot about hypertension here and here.
    • If you have this condition you must work with your doctor to achieve control of your blood pressure.
    • You can achieve this using a combination of:
      • lifestyle changes such as weight loss and physical exercise - read more here.
      • Anti-hypertensive medication.
      • Regular monitoring:
        • This simply means you check your blood pressure regularly.
        • You see your doctor every 3-6 months initially for blood tests to check your kidney function and cholesterol levels which are related to your heart disease monitoring.
        • You remain consistent with taking your medicines. Don't stop taking them without an agreed plan with your Doctor.

  • Pregnancy.
    • Pregnancy is often known as a "stress test for the heart".
    • We discuss the effects of pregnancy on the heart here.
    • One of the most common problems a woman can have in pregnancy is Hypertension as we show in Hauwa's Pregnancy Story.
    • The best way to manage pregnancy is antenatal care (ANC).
    • It allows the detection of problems like heart disease, diabetes or other medical conditions affecting the baby.
    • Antenatal care is crucial for the safe care and treatment of both mum and baby.
    • If you are pregnant, you must commit to ANC to help manage risks that arise at any time in your pregnancy.

  • Diabetes Mellitus.
    • It is a complex medical condition that happens when the body cannot process sugar normally.
    • This could be from the absence of the hormone insulin or not having enough of the hormone.
    • It leads to high levels of blood glucose which can damage many of the organs.
    • Diabetes has many complications, one of which is the damage to the heart or blood vessels that can lead to heart disease.
    • Care for Diabetes early prevents complications later.
    • It includes taking medications (insulin or blood sugar lowering agents) to control blood sugar levels as well as lifestyle changes that support the same.

  • Sickle Cell Disease.
    • This is an inherited medical condition that affects blood cells.
    • The genes that lead to Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) are inherited from both parents.
    • It causes a lot of medical problems which we discuss further here.
    • Among them is heart failure, where the heart is unable to pump blood effectively.
    • This could happen due to repeated sickle cell crises and low blood levels (anaemia).
    • There are difficult decisions associated with care in SCD.
    • Early diagnosis and knowing your genotype is important in CD..
    • There are some preventive measures to minimise the development of sickle cell crises.
    • Recognising triggers for illness can promote good health in someone who has SCD.

Work with your health professional.

The most common thread in these conditions is the need to have regular medical monitoring for effective treatment.

Regular medication and lifestyle changes are two key components that can manage these problems and reduce the risk they have for causing serious heart disease.

More Reading:

Maintaining Your Heart Health

Chest Pain in Adults

20 Facts - Heart Disease in Women

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through

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