On average, someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease (CVD) every 36 seconds, approximately 2,380 deaths each day, according to the American Heart Association. Each day, 405 deaths occur in the U.S. as the result of strokes, an average of one death every 3:33. More people die annually from CVD than from any other cause including cancer, COPD, diabetes, lung infections and the flu, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) 2021 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics.
Consider these steps to #RethinkCVRisk to change the course of the disease and your life.
Understand Your Risk
COVID-19 has shown that those with underlying CVD face an especially high risk of serious COVID-19-related illness or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Regardless of whether you’ve received your COVID-19 vaccination, now is a good time to discuss your risk for heart disease with your doctor.
How Cardiovascular Disease Develops
Risk factors for CVD include high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes and high blood pressure. Other factors that contribute to risk are family history, prior cardiovascular (CV) events, smoking, being overweight or obese and unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Over time, these risk factors can lead to injury of the blood vessel lining, causing inflammation, which can then trigger plaque growth. Plaque grows at different rates and in different arteries in the body for everyone and is often a slow, gradual process without symptoms.
As plaque buildup continues, the risk of suffering a CV event – such as heart attack or stroke – increases. If plaque ruptures, the body will try to repair the injury, potentially causing a blockage to form, and when an artery becomes fully blocked, blood flow is restricted. Blocked blood flow to the heart causes a heart attack while blocked blood flow to the brain causes a stroke.
Managing Risk Factors
The most effective way to prevent CVD is to understand and address risk factors. Triglycerides play an important role in heart health. Triglycerides store unused calories to give your body energy and are the most common type of fat in the body. They come from foods you eat such as butter, oils and other fats, as well as carbohydrates, sugars and alcohol. Your diet, lack of exercise, medical conditions, certain drugs and genetics can all cause high triglycerides.
In the past, medicines used to lower triglycerides, like fenofibrates and niacin, were commonly prescribed to help manage CV risk along with statins. However, clinical studies failed to show benefits and both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Diabetes Association discourage combining niacin and fenofibrates with statins.
Some turn to dietary supplement fish oil to help manage CV risk. However, supplements contain only 30% of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) with the majority of the product consisting of non-omega-3 ingredients, including saturated fats. Some data suggests certain ingredients in dietary supplement fish oils, such as DHA and saturated fats, may raise bad cholesterol.
While high triglycerides are an indicator of CV risk, lowering them won’t necessarily reduce your risk. However, addressing the underlying causes of high triglycerides can help, according to the AHA.
With ongoing research, new standards-of-care are emerging. High cholesterol is a key CV risk factor with statins currently the first-line therapy for lowering cholesterol. Statins, diet and exercise can lower your CV risk by about 25-35%, but, for many people, controlled cholesterol doesn’t eliminate CV risk. This residual risk, or “persistent CV risk,” puts millions of patients at risk and has been the focus of therapeutic development for many years.
Talk with your doctor about FDA-approved options that can help further reduce your heart risk if you already take statins.
Truths and Falsehoods About Heart Disease Risk
1. Statins reduce your chance of experiencing a CV event by up to 90%.
False. Statins, diet and exercise can lower your risk by about 25-35%, but for many patients, controlled cholesterol doesn’t eliminate CV risk. This residual risk, or “persistent CV risk,” puts millions of patients at risk and has been the focus of therapeutic development for many years.
2. Managing high triglycerides along with taking statins is enough to reduce your risk.
False. High triglycerides are a CV risk factor but lowering them won’t necessarily reduce your risk. For example, earlier generation medicines prescribed to lower triglycerides, like fenofibrates and niacin, failed to show clinical benefit when used with statins to reduce CV risk. In fact, the FDA withdrew approval for fenofibrates and niacin in combination with statins because they add potential risk with no proven benefit to heart health.
3. Fish oil supplements are a proven way to get protection from a CV event.
False. Fish oil supplements are not FDA-approved medicines intended to treat or prevent a medical condition. Despite multiple clinical studies, these products have not been proven, to reduce CV risk on top of current medical therapies including statins.
4. Having a first CV event, such as a heart attack or stroke, puts you at greater risk to suffer another.
True. Having a CV event makes you more likely to suffer another. That’s why it’s important to protect against a first CV event or future events. To closely monitor your heart health, stay in close contact with your doctor and reduce your risk by keeping up with your medications, exercising and sticking to a healthy diet.
For more information about CVD and what you can do, look for #RethinkCVRisk on social media or visit truetoyourheart.com.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
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