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Your Heart Disease and Stroke Risk "Skyrockets" When You Do These Things

Learn five things that increase your chance of heart disease and stroke. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "One person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020—that's 1 in every 5 deaths." And the stats for strokes are just as alarming. The CDC states, "In 2020, 1 in 6 deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke. Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Every 3.5 minutes, someone dies of stroke." Although there's no surefire way to prevent heart disease or stroke there are modifiable risk factors that raise the likelihood and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with  Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares five things that greatly increase the chance. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Strokes and Heart Disease Have in Common

man hold his had and suffering from headache, pain, migraine

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Both strokes and heart disease share a common risk factor: atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can reduce blood flow and cause serious health problems. In strokes and heart disease, atherosclerosis can block blood flow to the brain or heart. This can cause a stroke or a heart attack, respectively. The pathophysiology of both conditions is similar in that they both involve a reduction in blood flow due to atherosclerosis. However, there are some essential differences between the two conditions. For example, heart disease typically takes years to develop, while strokes can happen suddenly. Heart disease is primarily a chronic condition, while strokes are typically acute. Despite these differences, strokes and heart disease share many similarities, most notably their connection to atherosclerosis.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize they are at risk for a stroke until it is too late. Some factors increase people's stroke risk, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and family history. However, some things people can do to help prevent strokes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing any medical conditions they may have. While strokes are severe and can have devastating consequences, it is essential to remember that they are also preventable. Understanding the risk factors and taking steps to reduce them can help reduce stroke risk."


High Blood Pressure

man having blood pressure checked
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According to Dr. Mitchell, "High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for strokes and heart disease. When high blood pressure, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the body. This puts extra strain on the heart and, over time, can lead to damage. In addition, high blood pressure can cause the arteries to become narrow and rigid, making it more likely for a clot to form. If a clot lodges in the brain, it can cause a stroke. Similarly, a clot that forms in the heart can lead to a heart attack. Therefore, it is essential to keep blood pressure under control to reduce the risk of these potentially fatal conditions."


High Cholesterol

Blood Cholesterol Report Test Healthcare

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "Strokes and heart disease are major health concerns worldwide and have been linked to high cholesterol levels. In the case of strokes, high cholesterol can lead to plaque formation in the arteries, which can then block blood flow to the brain. This can cause a stroke, leading to severe long-term damage or even death. High cholesterol is also a risk factor for heart disease, as it can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can eventually lead to a heart attack, which can be fatal. Therefore, it is essential to maintain healthy cholesterol levels to reduce the risk of both strokes and heart disease."



no smoking sign

"Smoking is a significant risk factor for both strokes and heart disease," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco damage your heart and blood vessels. This damage can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries. Plaque narrows your arteries and makes it harder for blood to flow through them. A clot in one of your arteries can block blood flow to your brain and cause a stroke. Smokers are also more likely to develop high blood pressure, increasing their risk of stroke. In addition, smoking damages the lining of your arteries, making them more likely to tear or rupture. A torn artery can cause a heart attack by blocking blood flow to your heart muscle. So, if you smoke, you're increasing your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. The best way to reduce your risk is to quit smoking."



Young woman measures blood sugar level.

Dr. Mitchell says, "There are many risk factors for strokes and heart disease, and diabetes is among the most significant. Diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, making it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar levels. This can lead to plaque in the arteries, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. In addition, diabetes can cause high blood pressure, another significant risk factor for these conditions. Therefore, it is essential for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels carefully and to work with their healthcare providers to manage their condition. By taking these steps, they can help reduce their risk of strokes and heart disease."



shred belly fat

"Obesity is a significant risk factor for both strokes and heart disease," Dr. Mitchell states. "Obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. People who are obese are at increased risk for several health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. All of these conditions can lead to both strokes and heart disease. In addition, obesity itself can damage the heart and blood vessels. Obesity increases the amount of fat in the blood, which can clog the arteries. It also raises the risk of inflammation and makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. As a result, obesity is a significant contributor to both strokes and heart disease. Obesity treatment often includes lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and medications. These interventions can help lower the risk of strokes and heart disease."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather