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Manage key risk factors to help prevent heart disease

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar are some of the main risk factors for heart disease. That means keeping them in a healthy range is key to protecting your heart health.

What do I need to know about high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is the number 1 risk factor for heart disease

Blood pressure measures how hard your blood pushes against your arteries as it moves through your body. If your blood pressure is too high, it can make your arteries more likely to clog or burst — and that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Checking your blood pressure is the only way to know if it’s high

You can’t "feel" high blood pressure. To catch it before it causes health problems, get your blood pressure checked at least once a year — or more often if you’re at risk.

Monitor your blood pressure at home

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor might recommend that you monitor it at home — this will help you know if your blood pressure is well controlled. It will also help you understand what activities might be causing your blood pressure to rise. Talk to your doctor about how often to check your blood pressure. Watch this video to learn how to check your blood pressure at home.

There are lots of ways to help lower your blood pressure

Healthy habits are a great way to manage your blood pressure — for example, eating a balanced diet low in sodium (salt) and moving more can help. But sometimes, healthy life changes just aren’t enough. In that case, your doctor may also prescribe medicines to help lower your blood pressure. See how small steps can add up [PDF - 124 KB] to help lower your blood pressure and protect your heart.

What do I need to know about high cholesterol?

Your body needs cholesterol to function

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that your body makes. It’s also found in some foods. Your body uses cholesterol to build cells, make vitamins and hormones, and digest food. But too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries and harm your heart. The only way to know if your cholesterol’s too high is to have it checked — talk to a health care professional about getting this simple blood test.

Watch: What is cholesterol?

There’s good cholesterol, and there’s bad cholesterol

There are 2 types of cholesterol. “Good” cholesterol is called HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein). Foods like olive oil, seafood, and whole grains can boost your “good” HDL cholesterol. “Bad” cholesterol is called LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). Foods like full-fat dairy, fatty meats, and fried foods can raise the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your body.

Pro tip: To keep HDL and LDL straight, remember the H in HDL stands for "Healthy" and you want it "Higher". And the L in LDL stands for "Lousy" and you want it "Lower".

Cut back on saturated fat to lower your cholesterol

Not all foods that are high in cholesterol will raise your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Some foods, like eggs and shrimp, are healthy to eat in moderation. On the other hand, foods like fatty meats have cholesterol, but also a lot of saturated fat — which is bad news for your heart health.

Watch: Keep Your Cholesterol in Check

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What do I need to know about high blood sugar?

High blood sugar can affect your whole body

High blood sugar can lead to diabetes, a condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Diabetes can cause serious health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss. Watch this video to learn more about high blood sugar.

More than 1 in 3 adults in the United States have prediabetes

Prediabetes means your blood sugar is too high, but not high enough to be diabetes — at least not yet. Most people with prediabetes don’t know they have it. The good news? If you have prediabetes, you can take steps to stop it from becoming type 2 diabetes. Take this test to see if you’re at risk.

Small steps add up to lower your risk

Even small changes can go a long way to managing your blood sugar, lowering your risk of diabetes, and protecting your heart. For example, your blood sugar goes down every time you take a walk — and cutting sugary drinks like soda out of your diet goes a long way to lowering your diabetes risk. Check out this roadmap to preventing diabetes.