Heart disease: What puts you at risk?

Heart disease has many risk factors. Some, such as family history, age and ethnicity, are beyond our control. Some require lifestyle changes. Yet other risk factors of heart disease can be medically managed, as in the case of chronic diseases.

Dr Nadira Hamid, Associate Consultant, Department of Cardiology, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group, explains how high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes (diabetes mellitus) and high cholesterol are linked to heart disease, what puts you at risk of getting these conditions, and what you can do.

Chronic illnesses that raise your heart disease risk

1. High blood cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia)

High blood cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia) is a symptomless condition, in that it hardly presents any symptoms. There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • LDL (low density lipoprotein) – Commonly known as ‘bad’ cholesterol as it carries cholesterol to tissues, including the arteries.
  • HDL (high density lipoprotein) – Known as ‘good’ cholesterol as it takes cholesterol from the tissues to the liver, where it can be removed from the body.

When it comes to cholesterol, the key is to keep LDL cholesterol down, while raising HDL cholesterol. Accumulation of too much ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood can lead to a build-up of plaque in artery walls, causing a narrowing and hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis). This increases your likelihood of developing heart disease.

Risk factors of high blood cholesterol:

  • Poor diet – Consuming foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol
  • Being overweight/obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Heredity – If your family member have high cholesterol, you may also have it

How to lower your cholesterol:

  1. Opt for ‘healthier’ fats such as mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, nuts like almonds and cashews, and avocados), polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil), and omega-3 fats (salmon, sardines and mackerel).
  2. Choose fish, skinless poultry and lean meat when choosing meat, and low-fat or fat-free milk products.
  3. Consume more fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  4. Exercise regularly – Aim to have 30 mins of moderate physical activity daily such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. If you are unable to accommodate a long workout, spread it into smaller sessions throughout the day or week.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Limit alcohol intake to no more than 3 standard drinks for man and 2 standard drinks for women in a day.

See next page to find out what other chronic conditions raise your heart disease risk.

Ref: R14