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By Nancy White

It’s pretty easy to avoid America’s leading killer, lurking in that dark alley.

February 2, 2013 (San Diego)--Heart disease kills more Americans – 599,000 in a recent year -- than such likely suspects as cancer, automobile accidents or illicit drug use. Start with the ABC’s. A is for avoiding tobacco. B means becoming more active. C stands for choosing good nutrition.

Smoking is connected with heart disease? Yes, in a number of ways, says the American Heart Association, including harmful effects on blood pressure, oxygen delivered through the body, levels of good cholesterol and possible blood clotting. Stop smoking and you’ve lowered your risk of heart disease or a heart attack by about a third.

If the course overview of ABC’s doesn’t drive the healthy living point home, consider the dreaded pop quiz, the heart attack.

There are five warning signs of a heart attack, not to be ignored, even for five minutes:

  • Chest discomfort.
  • Upper body discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • A cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • Women, in particular, may feel shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

A third way to avoid America’s No. 1 killer is as easy as answering a few questions on your computer and getting an instant assessment of your risk. Yes, consider it more as a general guide than a definitive test score.

Do a search for and Heart Attack Risk Calculator.  This tool of the American Heart Association asks you the easy questions of gender, age and smoking/nonsmoking. Next are yes or no questions about family history of heart disease, existing heart disease or diabetes.  Fasting blood sugar level, height, weight and waist measurement come next.  These are followed by a few questions about your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (If you can’t remember your cholesterol numbers, don’t worry. Just drag a sliding scale to the approximate range.)

Presto! Up comes a percentage, an estimate of your risk of a heart attack or dying of coronary heart disease in the next 10 years. Further, based on your answers, the calculator provides tips of steps you may want to consider to change your lifestyle and lower your risk.

About that analogy of a killer lurking in the alley: Arteries are the largely unseen byways to your heart. By keeping them free of plaque buildup and assault from unhealthy forces, the No. 1 killer just may not find your neighborhood.

White, a registered nurse with a master’s in public health, is general manager of advocacy programs for McGregor and Associates. The San Diego firm administers health care coverage for 50 school districts through California Schools VEBA, A Wellness Heart Disease, including Cajon Valley, Lemon Grove, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Lakeside, Alpine, Julian, Jamul-Dulzura, Mountain Empire, Warner and San Diego Unified.

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