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Take Heart! Heart Disease Is Preventable

Q. When should you start to worry about heart disease?

A. 20 years old
B. 30 years old
C. 40 years old
D. 50 years old or older

Are you ready for the answer? If you're like most people, you probably guessed that heart disease shouldn't be a concern until you're 40 or 50 years old. But the correct answer is A. That's because the plaque that causes heart disease can build up starting in your twenties.

Are You at Risk?

Some people have higher risk factors for heart disease than others. Common risk factors are obesity, diabetes, and a family history of heart disease. Having a family history of the disease means one or more members of your immediate family--parent, sibling, or grandparent--have or had this disease.

Diagnosing the Problem

Cardiologist Matthew Sorrentino, MD, says that patients should get an initial exam at age 20. The exam includes a:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood pressure check
  • Cholesterol test
  • Discussion of a patient's risk factors
  • Family history of heart disease

If the exam results are normal, Dr. Sorrentino recommends having follow-up exams every five years. If the results are abnormal, treatment options will be discussed that may include annual follow-up exams.

Prevention Is the Key

No matter what your age, adopting a healthy lifestyle can dramatically decrease your risk of getting heart disease. According to Dr. Sorrentino, a healthy lifestyle includes:


  • Getting five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day (two to four of fruit and three to five of vegetables). For example, one medium-sized fruit or 1/2 cup of raw, cooked, canned, or frozen fruits or vegetables counts as a serving.
  • Limiting saturated fats--fats from junk food and fast food. But not all fats are bad for your heart. Poly- and monounsaturated fats can actually help your heart. You can get these "good fats" from foods such as fish and nuts.


Being active is a good way to keep your heart pumping. Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise a day--even if it's broken into three 10-minute sessions--can reduce a person's risk of developing heart disease.

Limit Alcohol

Men should drink no more than two drinks a day and women should drink no more than one drink. One drink is considered a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Quit Smoking

The use of tobacco products greatly increases your risk of heart disease.

Renetta Barnette Renetta Barnette survived a heart attack and heart surgeries, but her physicians credit her lifestyle changes as the key to helping her heart to be "good as new."

The doctors at the University of Chicago "have a very strong interest in prevention," says Dr. Sorrentino. "So we tend to take a more aggressive approach to screening at an earlier age." Currently, researchers on our medical campus are studying new and emerging risk factor markers that may give additional information beyond the standard recommendations. For example, different types of cholesterol particles and blood testing for inflammatory markers are techniques under investigation at the University of Chicago.

Likewise, our multidisciplinary approach allows physicians to easily treat heart disease in conjunction with a number of other conditions, such as diabetes.

Learn More

Visit our online health library for more information about heart disease prevention.

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