Why 48% of Americans Have Heart Disease and How to Avoid It

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The number of Americans diagnosed with heart disease has soared recently, but the reasons behind the spike are complicated. Fewer people are developing heart disease, but new guidelines are catching more people who’ve been at risk all along. We’ll break it down for you and share some tips to keep you from becoming a statistic.

Quick Read:
The guidelines on diagnosing the lower end of high blood pressure have changed, and 48 percent of Americans are now considered at risk for a future heart attack or stroke. Whereas a reading of 130/90 used to be the cutoff, authorities now believe 120/80 is as high as yours should go. You can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease by not smoking, controlling diabetes, losing excessive weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet. Get the details below to see how the new guidelines might affect you and what you can do about it.

See How You Can Avoid Joining the 48% of Americans Who Have Heart Disease.

New Guidelines

The American College of Cardiology (ACC), the American Heart Association (AHA) and a handful of other organizations recently set new guidelines for high blood pressure. The task force began sifting through studies in 2014, comparing cardiac events among different risk groups. They determined a systolic blood pressure (SBP) over 120 or diastolic blood pressure (DBP) over 80, previously believed to be safe, classifies as prehypertension.

Under these new guidelines, about 46 percent of Americans qualify as having elevated blood pressure. Many younger adults, most of them otherwise healthy, will now find themselves belonging to a risk group. About twice as many women under 45, and three times as many men, are considered prehypertensive under the new guidelines.

Understanding the Numbers

DBP and SBP both measure the levels of pressure created by the blood moving through your cardiovascular system. DBP tells you how forcefully your blood is pumping each time your heart beats, while SBP tells you how much pressure is in your blood vessels between beats. Previous guidelines were more concerned with SBP numbers, but the new ones also include higher DBP numbers as heart disease risk factors. Ideally, you want an SBP of around 120 and a DBP of 80, an overall reading of 120/80.

What You Can Do

The ACC/AHA task force lists high blood pressure risk factors into two groups: traits or issues you might have limited power to change and variables that are more within your control. Those you’re less likely to have control over include:

  • Age
  • Being male
  • Outside emotional stressors
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Consider the list items you may be able to alter, even if only a little. For example, even if you can’t reduce your stressors, you may be able to manage them better using meditation or other relaxation techniques. Sleep apnea may have no cure, but you can reduce its effects by losing weight and using a CPAP machine while you sleep. Factors you can grasp by the horns include:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Most people who are prehypertensive can manage their blood pressure by making one or two changes in lifestyle. Old habits die hard, and these changes might take some effort at first, but the long-term effects will likely be worth it. Tackle one obstacle at a time if a complete overhaul feels like too much. Even one change, such as quitting smoking or exercising more, can make a huge difference.

The DASH Diet

The CDC recommends those at risk consume less sodium and more potassium as part of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The DASH diet pushes a higher intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats, favoring herbs and spices over salt for seasoning. The average person following this diet should aim to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.

Heart disease might not be on an actual rise, but it’s still the number one killer in the United States. Protect yourself by staying up to date on wellness exams and practicing healthy lifestyle habits. And why wait until your numbers begin to rise to adopt better choices? See what you can do today about having a healthier heart for tomorrow.

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