You're never too young to start thinking about heart attack prevention. Although heart attacks may not occur until later in life, the roots of the problem can develop very early. The Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize that conditions that increase your risk of heart attacks can begin early in life and that early intervention is necessary to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (blood circulation problems caused by hardening or narrowing of the arteries). Atherosclerosis can increase the risk of heart attack.
Some medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes) can increase your risk of heart attacks. Visiting your doctor regularly while you're still young can help you catch these medical problems early and develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
Are you getting a head start on heart attack prevention? Ask yourself the following questions.
Does your lifestyle measure up?
We feel invincible when we're young, and the temptation is strong to put off making the changes that we know we might have to make later in life. It's hard to make the connection between lifestyle and disease when we feel so youthful and healthy. But did you know that the sooner you start on a healthy lifestyle, the more you benefit from keeping your heart healthy and preventing a heart attack?
Lifestyle changes that will help you prevent a heart attack include:
- maintaining a healthy weight and waist-to-hip ratio
- getting 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week
- eating a healthy diet
- drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women)
- quitting or never starting smoking
- managing stress
To learn more about making healthy lifestyle changes, see "The Heart Attack Prevention Lifestyle" and the Lifestyle Tool.
Do you know your risk factors?
Even young people can have risk factors for heart attacks. The sooner you find them, the sooner you can act to reduce your risk.
Some risk factors can be changed or controlled, such as:
- lifestyle factors (see above)
- medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol
Ask your doctor if you should be tested for these conditions, and whether there is anything else you can do to reduce your heart attack risk. Your doctor may prescribe statins to help control your cholesterol or blood pressure medications to lower your blood pressure. Do not take aspirin as a preventive measure unless your doctor tells you to. Taking aspirin daily may increase the risk of bleeding, so you should fully explore the risks and benefits of aspirin with your doctor.
Other risk factors cannot be changed, such as your family or personal medical history, increasing age, and gender (men are at a greater risk for heart attack and tend to have heart attacks earlier than women). But it's still important to know about them so you can reduce your risk of heart attacks by managing the risk factors you can control.
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