How to protect yourself from American’s #1 killer


Joshua Adam Hicks

When it comes to taking lives, few things can match the numbers achieved by cardiovascular disease, which claims one in every 2.8 deaths in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

That’s far more than either cancer, car accidents, or AIDS, making cardiac problems serious as a heart attack.

Overall, coronary heart disease is the number-one killer in the country, while strokes fall in at number three.

Around 17 percent of Americans killed by cardiovascular problems are under the age of 65, which means mid life can be as good a time as any to get heart smart.

Overlake cardiologist Thomas Amidon says the most important things to learn about are risk factors, symptoms, and treatments.

Risk Factors

These can be broken down into two categories: things you can control and things you cannot.

Among the factors people can’t control are their age, gender, and heredity.

Over 83 percent of those who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older, and the risks tend to be greater for men, minority races, and children of parents with heart disease.

Although women have a lower risk, coronary heart disease is still the leading cause of death among that segment of the population.

“It’s not been thought of as a women’s disease, yet more women die as a result of heart disease than even cancer,” Amidon said.

Women are also more likely than men to die within a few weeks of experiencing a heart attack as their age increases.

Controllable risk factors related to cardiovascular disease include weight, physical activity, blood-pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking, all of which can be managed with medication or lifestyle changes.


Doctors can screen for potential problems with stress tests, nuclear scans, ultrasounds, and CT scans, all of which offer a picture of how well the cardiovascular system is functioning.

The most common signs of a heart attack include crushing or burning in the chest, shortness of breath, and pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.


Amidon claims the best thing people can do is treat their risk factors. He recommends lifestyle changes before drugs or surgery.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge to get folks to think in those terms,” Amidon said. “It’s our 21st-century mentality that we’re not doing something unless I put a piece of metal in your heart.”

Among the top lifestyle changes people can make:

Smokers should quit, Amidon says. They’re up to four times as likely to develop coronary heart disease as non-smokers.

Amidon also recommends 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, as well as a diet low in cholesterol and bad fats – 200 milligrams of cholesterol and 20 grams of fat per day.

“Everything has a nutritional label on it,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where you don’t have an excuse for eating unhealthy.”

Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at 425.453.4290.