Caring For Your Heart

According to the American Heart Association, over 35,000 Latinos die each year because of heart disease and stroke. It is the No. 1 reason Latinos die. That is why it is especially important for you to know what you can do to reduce your risks. You should also know how to manage heart and blood vessel problems if you have them. 

What Is Heart Disease?

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute says heart disease is one of several disorders of the heart and blood vessel system. Other cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, and rheumatic heart disease.

Heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hard and narrow because of a buildup of plaque on the arteries' inner walls. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. The build up of plaque in the arteries reduces blood flow to the heart. 

A heart attack happens when an artery becomes totally blocked with plaque. The block prevents oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart. A heart attack can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle. 

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

The American Heart Association says you may be able to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke if you change your lifestyle or take certain medicines.

  • Tobacco smoke. Cigarette smoking is a big risk factor for sudden death in patients with heart disease. Smokers have about twice the risk of death from heart disease as nonsmokers. Even people who don't smoke but are around second-hand smoke have a risk for heart disease. Cigarette smoking when combined with other risk factors greatly increases the risk for heart disease.
  • High blood cholesterol. As blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, genes and diet.
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder, making it thicken and become stiffer. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and heart failure. When you have high blood pressure and also are very overweight, smoke, have high cholesterol or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases much more.
  • Not enough exercise. Not getting enough exercise is a risk factor for heart disease. Getting physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, and may lower blood pressure in some people.
  • Obesity and overweight. People who have too much body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Especially if the fat is around the waist. Excess weight increases the heart's work. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Diabetes is also more likely to develop.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes seriously increases your risk of heart disease. Even when glucose (blood sugar) levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The risks are even greater if blood sugar is not under control. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.

What other factors contribute to heart disease risk?

  • Stress. Some scientists have noted a relationship between heart disease risk and stress in a person's life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status. These factors may affect established risk factors. For example, people under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would.
  • Drinking Alcohol. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. It can contribute to high blood sugar, cancer and other diseases, and produce irregular heartbeats. It contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents.

What You Can Do to Control Some Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Here's what The American Heart Association says you can do to control the risks for heart disease and stroke. Have your doctor check you for the risk factors.  He or she may suggest that you: 

  • Watch your weight. Even losing as few as 10 pounds can lessen your chances of heart disease. Lose weight slowly and check with your doctor before starting any diet.
  • Eat healthy. Cut out or cut down on fat, salt, and sugar. This can help you lose weight and lower cholesterol.
  • Control your blood sugar. Your risk of heart disease goes up if your blood sugar is not under control.
  • Keep your cholesterol level down. Even thin people may have high cholesterol. Watch your diet and take any medication your doctor has prescribed to keep cholesterol under control.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking makes your heart work harder. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly. Too high or too low is a problem. Take advantage of free blood pressure checks at the shopping mall, health fairs or neighborhood clinics. Or have it checked at your doctor's office.
  • Stay Active. Exercise helps to keep blood pressure, weight, blood sugar and cholesterol under control for many people. Do an activity that keeps you moving for at least 30 minutes a day. Always check with your doctor before you start an exercise program.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Too much alcohol raises blood pressure and also adds calories to your diet. That makes it harder to lose weight.
  • Try not to get overstressed. People under stress may overeat, drink too much, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would. Stress is definitely not good for your heart. Find ways to relax.
  • Take your medicine. If your doctor has prescribed medicine for your blood pressure, cholesterol or other health problem, be sure you take it so it can work to keep you healthy. Don't stop taking your medication unless your doctor tells you to.
  • See your doctor regularly. Regular checkups tell you if you're doing a good job taking care of yourself. They help your doctor monitor your health and catch problems early. With heart disease, like most diseases, the earlier they are found, the more effective the treatment. 

Following these simple steps can reduce your chances of getting heart disease. Making these lifestyle changes now may help you live better and healthier.

NOTE: A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or anyone you are with has any of the following symptoms.

  • Chest discomfort. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that comes and goes and lasts more than a few minutes.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This includes pain in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. You may or may not have chest discomfort at the same time.
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Click on the links below to learn more.


The American Heart Association, Hispanics/Latinos and Cardiovascular Diseases--Statistics

Your Guide to a Healthy Heart, NHLBI

The American Heart Association/Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease

This information is for education only. It is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.


Reviewed by:

Richard L. Lane MD., Managing Medical Director, KY

Lynette Cooper RN CMCN  Legal Specialist Sr