According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease and strokes account for just over a third of all deaths in the United States.

It is estimated that nearly 100 people die every hour as a direct consequence of these two categories, and nearly 71 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease.

Both cardiovascular disease and strokes cost our nation more than $400 billion in direct and indirect costs in 2006. Unfortunately, as our baby boomers are getting older, these numbers and statistics may only be the beginning. The good news is that heart disease and strokes can largely be prevented.

Cardiovascular diseases categories include the following:

• Coronary heart disease such as heart attack or myocardial infarction, angina pectoris (chest pain that occurs due to reduced oxygen and blood flow to the blood vessels that supply the heart) and congestive heart failure.

• Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which can be either ischemic (blood supply to portion of brain is blocked), hemorrhagic (blood supply to portion of brain ruptures or bursts), or a transient ischemic attack, also known as a "mini-stroke," which usually resolves within 24 hours.

• Peripheral artery disease, which causes a reduced amount of blood flow to various parts of the body, such as the arms and legs. It may result in anything from mild cramps to severe muscle pain, ulcers, or even recurrent infections and gangrene of the involved extremity.

• Atherosclerosis, which is the deposition of cholesterol and the inflammation that occurs along the inside walls of arteries, especially major arteries like the aorta. This can result in narrowing of the arteries and further reduce blood flow.

• Aneurysms (dilated blood vessel), such as of the thoracic or abdominal aorta. These occur due to weakness in the blood vessel wall and are at risk of rupturing.

A landmark study, called the "Interheart Study," published in the medical journal The Lancet a few years ago, was based on research derived from 52 countries. It concluded that making nine specific changes to one's life could reduce many of the significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The study also stated that these nine potentially modifiable factors, if left unchanged, account for more than 90 percent of the risk for developing the first heart attack.

These changes include:

• Not smoking.

• Improving one's cholesterol profile (cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, etc).

• Improved blood pressure control, as it has been shown that the risk of cardiovascular disease progressively increases with pressures greater than 110/75 mm Hg.

• Controlling and, if possible, preventing diabetes, as a diabetic is considered to be at risk equal to someone with prior cardiovascular disease.

• Avoiding obesity, which is diagnosed by having a body mass index of greater than 30 kg/m2. Body mass index is calculated by weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. If obese or even overweight, patients should work on trying to safely lose pounds.

• Reducing adverse psychosocial factors, such as stress, anxiety, depression and anger.

• Eating fruits and vegetables daily and improving regular daily fiber intake.

• Limiting alcohol to only moderate intake. Caution needs to be taken in those with previous history of alcoholism. It may even be better to avoid any alcohol in this group due to the risk of relapsing back into excessive alcohol use.

• Finally, exercising every day.

This article was written for general information purposes and is not meant to substitute the personalized care of your doctor. Please check with your doctor, to see what therapies or preventative measures are available and if they are right for you before making any significant changes to your medical regimen or lifestyle.

For more information, visit these Web sites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention —

American Heart Association —

World Health Organization —

The Lancet —

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