Your Must-Fix Heart Risk

When it comes to predicting your heart disease risk, one number outperforms the rest.

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel
heart disease salt cholesterol blood pressure picture
Photograph: Harry Campbell

Time to hide the saltshaker: Of the three biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease—smoking, high cholesterol and high systolic blood pressure (the top -number)—the strongest indicator, especially for women, is blood pressure, according to an 11-year study of 9,357 adults published in Hypertension. A 15-point rise in systolic blood pressure increases the odds of developing cardiovascular disease by 56 percent in women and 32 percent in men. For reasons that aren’t yet clear, women also benefit more when hypertension is reduced: Lowering systolic pressure by 15 points could prevent or help repair 36 percent of heart disease cases in women, compared with just 24 percent in men, according to study coauthor Jan A. Staessen, MD, PhD, of the University of Leuven in Belgium.

Lifestyle changes such as cutting down on sodium and exercising regularly are often the first steps doctors recommend for controlling high blood pressure. But if the numbers stay in the unhealthy range, there’s now a new tactic: starting treatment with a combination of two blood-pressure medications. A study from the University of Cambridge shows that this approach produces deeper reductions—and does so faster and with fewer side effects—than using one medication and then adding another if needed.

Originally published in the 2011 July/August issue of More.

Next: 3 Smart Heart Tests for Women

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First Published June 26, 2011

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