Heart Disease - What You Need to Know

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- A healthy heart beats about 100,000 times and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood each day. It can pump 20 quarts a minute and even more during strenuous exercise. In a normal lifetime, your heart will beat 2,500,000,000 (2.5 billion) times -- amazing!

Clearly, the development of heart disease presents a serious risk to quality and quantity of life. Coronary heart disease refers to a build-up of fatty material that can clog your heart's arteries. When arteries become clogged or narrowed, blood flow is restricted. Without adequate blood, the heart becomes deprived of oxygen and vital nutrients needed to function properly.

Heart disease is the number one killer in America affecting more than 12 million people. It is a common misconception that breast cancer is the number one killer of women in the U.S. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of women as well as men. Nearly 250,000 women die each year from heart disease. That's five times the number of women who will die from breast cancer.

Heart disease kills and disables more Americans than any other single cause, taking the lives of over 800,000 people each year. The good news is that heart disease is often preventable or reversible. There are several risk factors that are linked to heart disease.

Some of these risk factors you can control, others you cannot. Some risk factors you can't control include family history of heart disease (especially before age 55) and increasing age (male over age 45 or female over age 55).

A few risk factors you can control include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and smoking. High blood pressure coupled with high cholesterol increases your coronary heart disease risk by six times. If you smoke, your risk is doubled again, making your risk twelve times greater.

Lifestyle plays a major role in your risk for heart disease. Take steps to help reduce your risk of heart disease and know your family history. The sooner you know your risk, the sooner you can take active steps to combat it. If you smoke, quit! Not smoking will greatly reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack, not to mention a host of other health problems.

Also, eat less saturated fat. Not only does it contribute to high cholesterol, but it adds extra pounds. Most importantly, take steps to live a healthier lifestyle by eating a heart smart diet and exercising on a regular basis to help strengthen your heart and reduce your health risks. The best time to start taking care of your heart is before problems occur. Your health improves and your heart disease risks start to decrease as soon as you begin to change health-risk behaviors.

Take care of your heart -- it's the only one you've got!