Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Over 60 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular diseases, and about 2,600 people die each day of it. Cancer, the second largest killer, accounts for only half as many deaths.
The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. Some of them, such as lifestyle, cholesterol and blood pressure, can be modified, treated or controlled. Others cannot, including age, gender and family history. By controlling as many risk factors as you can, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Doctors typically prescribe drug therapy for people who've had a heart attack or who are at high risk of having one. Medications that help the heart function more effectively or reduce heart attack risk may include:
- Blood-thinning medications. Aspirin makes your blood less "sticky" and likely to clot. Doctors recommend a daily aspirin for most people who've had a heart attack. Your doctor may, in some cases, prescribe a stronger blood thinner than aspirin.
- Doctors may prescribe aspirin and an anti-clotting drug, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), for people undergoing an angioplasty or stent procedure to open narrowed coronary arteries, both before and after the procedure.
- If you're taking aspirin to help prevent a heart attack, be aware that taking the painkiller ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) at the same time may increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems and may interfere with the heart benefits of aspirin. If you need to take a pain-relieving medication for certain conditions, such as arthritis, discuss with your doctor which is best for you.
- Beta blockers. These drugs lower your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing demand on your heart and helping to prevent further heart attacks. Many people will need to take beta blockers for the rest of their lives following a heart attack.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Doctors prescribe ACE inhibitors for most people after heart attacks, especially for those who have had a moderate to severe heart attack that has reduced the heart's pumping capacity. These drugs allow blood to flow from your heart more easily, prevent some of the complications of heart attacks and make a second heart attack less likely.
- Cholesterol-lowering medications. A variety of medications, including statins, niacin, fibrates and bile acid sequestrants, can help lower your levels of unwanted blood cholesterol. The majority of people who've had a heart attack take cholesterol-lowering medications — drugs that help lower the risk of a second heart attack. These medications can help prevent future heart attacks even if your cholesterol was not very high at the time of the heart attack.
Talk to your family doctor about your specific risk factors for a heart attack and how to reduce your risk. Your doctor may tell you to do the following:
- Quit smoking. Your doctor can help you. (If you don't smoke, don't start!)
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut back on foods high in saturated fat and sodium (salt) to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A Mediterranean diet is also a very healthy choice. Ask your doctor about how to improve your diet.
- Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Exercise. It may sound hard if you haven't exercised for a while, but try to work up to 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise (that raises your heart rate) 4 to 6 times a week.
- Lose weight if you're overweight. Your doctor can advise you about the best ways to lose weight.
- Control your blood pressure if you have hypertension.
- Talk to your doctor about whether aspirin would help reduce your risk of a heart attack. Aspirin can help keep your blood from forming clots that can eventually block the arteries.