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Here’s the cold, hard truth about heart disease. One out of every four people will die from it.

It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. It kills over 600,000 people per year in the United States.

But what exactly is heart disease? According to the CDC (2015), the term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Every year nearly 750,000 Americans have a heart attack, and of those people, around 525,000 of them are first timers. The remaining 200,000+ people are repeat offenders and have already had at least one heart attack before.

The main culprit to causing a heart attack is plaque. Over the years, plaque can build up in your vascular system from a variety of sources. Smoking, excess cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, heavy alcohol consumption, obesity, and lack of physical activity are all factors that contribute to plaque buildup.

As plaque builds up in the arteries of a person with heart disease, the inside of the arteries begins to narrow, which lessens or blocks the flow of blood. Sometimes, an area of plaque can rupture/break open inside of an artery. This causes a blood clot to form on the plaque’s surface. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly/completely block blood flow to a specific part of the heart, and cause a heart attack.

The thing about heart disease is that we can all do something about it. It is one of the most preventable diseases there is, because lifestyle choices often dictate whether or not you will suffer from it during your lifetime.

Can you choose to eat a diet low in animal fat and cholesterol, limited sugar and salt, and high in fruits and vegetables? Yes you absolutely can. It’s your choice.

Can you choose to quit smoking? Yes you can. I know it may seem impossible to you, but there are loads of resources and support services out there that can help you quit.

Can you make exercise a part of your life? Can you decrease your alcohol intake and work on lowering your blood pressure? Again, yes, yes, and yes you can.

The point I’m making is that heart disease is mostly a self-inflicted problem. We bring it upon ourselves with years and year of poor choices. The great thing about it though, is that we have the power to make better choices starting right now!

Even if you currently suffer from heart disease, it’s never too late! Eating healthy, quitting smoking, and increasing your physical activity are ways to slow, and in some cases, reverse the progression of your heart disease!

Now it is also true that another important risk factor is family history. A family history of heart disease can increase the risk in both men and women at earlier ages. If you have heart disease in your family, it’s even more important that you make the right lifestyle choices to lower your risk for developing the disease.

All month long, we are going to be examining heart disease and looking at ways to improve your heart health. We all know someone who has suffered from or died from a heart attack. Don’t be a statistic; start making good lifestyle choices today.