Most people don't know that they are at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks and strokes are among the leading causes of death. However, studies show that statins reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Find out how lifestyle changes and statins can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

What Causes Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels. For example, coronary heart disease is when the arteries of the heart don't supply enough oxygen rich blood to the heart.

A reduction in blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack. A reduction in blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke. The buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of blood vessels that lead to the heart increases risk for developing a heart attack.

Common symptoms of heart attacks include: Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina), shortness of breath, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly area or back, and pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in the legs or arms if the blood vessels in those body areas are narrowed. If a patient experiences a heart attack, it likely means that cardiovascular disease has been undetected for a while.

For strokes, the most common symptoms are numbness in the face, arm, or leg. Typically if you experience numbness associated with a stroke, it stays on one side of the body. Other symptoms include disorientation, difficulty seeing, dizziness, headache, or fainting.

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

Now that you know what can cause a heart attack or stroke and the symptoms of each, let's look at the associated risk factors. One of the biggest risk factors is not taking care of yourself. For example, maintaining an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol intake. These lifestyle choices can increase your risk for developing cardiovascular disease including strokes and heart attacks.

What is Statin Therapy?

Statins are traditionally prescribed for patients that have high cholesterol. Statins help lower cholesterol by blocking the pathway for synthesizing cholesterol in the liver. Statins stabilize the plaque in your body and help prevent plaque buildup by drawing cholesterol out of the plaque. Cholesterol plaques are fatty substances that accumulate in the arteries, causing blockages in circulation and elevations in  blood pressure. Plaques increase the risk of developing a heart attack or stroke.

Risk Factors and Benefits

Studies show that the majority of patients that take statins do not report side effects. The research shows that for many patients, the risk of long-term use is low, and the benefits are quite high. Common side effects of statins include muscle pain, liver damage, and increased blood sugar. For many patients, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Now the big question remains, do statins prevent heart attacks? The answer is that in some cases, it works to lower cholesterol levels but not significantly. If patients are prescribed statins, they cannot just rely on the medication alone to optimize their health. They must incorporate a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise into their routine. Changing their modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease will help them not suffer from a heart attack or stroke.

How to Prevent Heart Disease

Here are a few ways that you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. We will cover the health benefits of changing your lifestyle and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Healthy Diet

When someone changes how they eat, it prevents many detrimental events from occurring. Eating foods good for heart health can also improve blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and prevent diabetes.

Incorporate heart-healthy foods into your diet. Try to eat more vegetables, fruits, beans, lean meat or fish, whole grains, and healthy fats (avocados or olive oil). Research shows that if someone is consuming a lot of salt, sugar, processed foods, red meat, alcohol, or saturated fats, then they are most at risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Another extremely heart-healthy diet is the Mediterranean diet. This diet has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. The Mediterranean diet is associated with improvements in insulin sensitivity and lipid levels and consists of plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and other spices. The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based protein and fish, but poultry can also be consumed. Skinless white meat can be incorporated especially when it's baked, broiled or grilled while beef, pork or lamb are limited.

The Mediterranean-style diet can also include red wine, but as stated before, excessive consumption of alcohol is never good. Wine should be consumed only in moderation to keep your heart healthy.

Regular Exercise

After incorporating a healthy diet into your lifestyle, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease and multiple diseases are paired with obesity. Studies show that someone is at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease if their waist is above a certain measurement. For men, that measurement is 40 inches, and for women, it's 35 inches.

One way to manage your weight is through diet and exercise. Now we've covered the diet portion, let's move on to exercise.

Consistent physical activity is one of the best ways to control heart problems from occurring. Similar to maintaining a healthy diet, physical activity reduces risk for developing a heart attack or stroke.

You can start your exercise program slowly in the beginning. It is recommended that the average person spends at a minimum two and a half hours engaging in aerobic exercise a week. Again, this can be your starting point. If you are feeling adventurous afterward, increase the duration and/or intensity of your exercise.

Good Sleep and Stress Management

Managing your stress will help your body recover better after a tough day. A large amount of stress can exact a heavy toll on your body. That’s why It is important to find healthy ways to manage your stress. Some options include exercise, meditating, or finding a relaxation technique that works for you.

Also important to managing stress is getting enough restful sleep each night. A good night of sleep is pivotal to how your day will progress. If you are tired, your memory, mood, energy, and focus can be negatively impacted. We recommend setting a strict sleep schedule and sticking to it. If you have a routine, your body will better adapt to it. Changing your old habits and adapting to a healthy lifestyle will help you reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.