February is American Heart Month, and cardiologists from the Mount Sinai Health System are sharing tips on prevention and lowering risk.

“It takes decades for heart disease to develop, so the earlier we can detect risk factors and diagnose, the sooner we can intervene to prevent a possible heart attack or stroke,” says Suzanne R. Steinbaum, DO, Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Prevention, Health, and Wellness at The Mount Sinai Hospital, in a release. “It’s important to make your doctor your partner in health when being treated for heart disease. Make sure to communicate how you’re feeling and the times you take your medication, along with giving details on your diet and exercise and stress to ensure the best possible management and treatment of the condition.”

Everyone is at risk of heart disease, but people are more susceptible to getting the disease if they have high cholesterol or blood pressure, smoke, are overweight, and don’t exercise or eat a healthy diet. Age is also a factor, specifically for women over 65 and men older than 55. Those with a family history of heart disease are also at higher risk, as are those who sleep less than 6 hours a night. But illness can be prevented by taking simple steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

Mount Sinai Research Links Lack of Sleep to Heart Disease

People who sleep less than 6 hour a night, or have fragmented sleep could be at higher risk of atherosclerosis, according to a new study published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can lead to the development of coronary artery disease, a major cause of heart attack and stroke.

Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, Director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief of The Mount Sinai Hospital, and a team of researchers monitored the sleep of 3,974 patients over the course of seven nights (average age 46; 62 percent men). Investigators used 3-D vascular ultrasounds and to analyze blood flow through the blood vessels. They discovered those who slept less than 6 hours a night had more accumulation of plaque in their arteries when compared to those who slept between 7 and 8 hours a night. The study also showed those who had interrupted sleep also had more arterial plaque when compared to patients who slept through the night.

“We’re detecting disease in its earliest stages in apparently healthy young people,” says Valentin Fuster. “This is something that was done only at autopsy until now. This is an alarm system, telling you that there is another cardiovascular risk factor you should pay attention to.”

Tips for Lowering Risk

  • Know your family history
  • Be aware of five key numbers cited by the American Heart Association: blood pressure, total cholesterol, HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, body mass index, and fasting glucose levels
  • Maintain a healthy diet, eating nutrient-rich food and eliminating sweets
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day
  • Quit smoking
  • Watch your weight and exercise regularly
  • Learn the warning signs of heart attack and stroke, including chest discomfort; shortness of breath; pain in arms, back, neck, or jaw; breaking out in a cold sweat; and lightheadedness