The top two killers in the world are linked to heart and blood vessel problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 600,000 people die of heart disease annually in the United States alone and 380,000 of those deaths attributed to coronary artery disease.

Heart disease is the leading killer of women in America and it is estimated one out of every four women will die each year. Heart disease alone will claim the lives of more than 150,000 women, which is more than breast cancer and lung cancer combined.

Coronary artery disease occurs when blood vessels supplying blood to the heart become narrow due to blockages; the heart stops receiving the vital blood and oxygen required to pump and the body’s organs, such as the brain, cannot receive blood either.

The second leading cause of death in the United States is stroke, also known as CVA, with nearly 130,000 people in the United States dying of a stroke each year.

About one in four strokes occur in people who have had a stroke before. Strokes can be caused by clots or by a ruptured blood vessel that bleeds into the brain; therefore, the brain does not get the flow of blood and oxygen it requires to function and brain cells die.

Because brain cells do not replace themselves, strokes can cause permanent injury and physical disabilities. Ultimately, strokes can affect the ability to talk and understand speech.

Risk factors for heart disease and stroke include high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and high cholesterol.

Blood pressure is the force exerted by the heart when pumping blood. High blood pressure is a warning the heart is working harder than normal. High blood pressure may not cause symptoms; however, it is a major cause of heart and blood vessel disease.

Obesity can raise blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lower “good” HDL cholesterol (HDL cholesterol is linked with lower heart disease and stroke risk).

Additionally, obesity can increase blood pressure and induce diabetes. Diabetes can make other risk factors worse and danger of heart attack is especially high for these people. Every adult should have his or her BMI calculated at least once a year; people with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.

Smoking damages blood vessels, and studies show smokers are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as non-smokers independent of other risk factors. If you smoke, quit immediately — even secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart attack by 30 percent.

The liver produces cholesterol, which is a fatty substance designed to protect cells.

Too much cholesterol obtained through the diet can be deposited in arteries, which builds a wall of plaque inside the blood vessels.

A “lipid profile” lab test ordered by your doctor can determine your risk and provide an accurate cholesterol level.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at

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