(BPT) One in four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease. More than 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s no surprise heart health is a priority for many people.
You know you need to eat a nutritious diet, exercise and avoid smoking.
However, there’s a lot more you need to know to protect yourself and your family. Consider these five surprising facts about heart disease.
1. Heart disease can be caused by a genetic disorder
You may not have heard of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), a common, but inherited genetic disorder that causes heart disease. FH affects approximately one in 250 people worldwide, but 90 percent of people born with this genetic condition are not diagnosed. Individuals with FH have a high amount of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in their blood from birth. This lifelong burden of cholesterol is a reason FH leads to early and severe heart disease. The good news is that FH is manageable if detected and treated early in life.
2. Many heart attacks occur outside the hospital
About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital, according to the CDC. This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t recognize or act on early warning signs.
Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats.
Know the signs. Trust yourself. If you have any of these symptoms or sense something is just not right, call 911.
3. Heart disease affects young people
Many people think heart disease occurs in old age, but it can affect people of all ages. Even if you or your family members are 30 years old or younger, you could be affected, especially if you have risk factors like high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease. Keep in mind, each child with a family member with FH has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disorder, which is present at birth. Untreated individuals with FH have up to a 20 times increased lifetime risk of early heart disease, yet 90 percent of people with FH are undiagnosed. Check out more resources about treatment.
4. Children (even infants) can have high cholesterol
Many adults are regularly screened for high cholesterol, but it’s not as common for children to be screened, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children between the ages of 9 and 11 be screened for high cholesterol. These guidelines also recommend screening for FH as early as age 2 if there is a family history of high cholesterol, early heart disease or known FH. Talk to your children’s doctor about screening. FH is characterized by an LDLC level of over 190 mg/dL in adults, or over 160 mg/dL in children. FH may also be confirmed with a genetic test, although this is not necessary for diagnosis.
5. You can maintain a healthy heart at any age
Being diagnosed with high cholesterol, heart disease or even FH is not a death sentence. Every person’s health considerations are unique, but by working with your doctor, you can come up with a plan to help manage your health and maintain the strongest heart possible. This could include lifestyle changes and medications to manage the LDL cholesterol level in the blood. The key is to keep asking questions, learn about your specific health needs and stay dedicated to your heart health plan.