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Medical Illnesses

Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, involves a number of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States affecting African Americans and Mexican Americans at a higher rate. Lifestyle behaviors, called risk factors, increase your risk for cardiovascular disease conditions such as coronary artery disease or “heart attack”, stroke or “brain attack”, and hypertension. Smoking tobacco damages the blood vessels, increasing the risk for developing a “heart attack”. Being physically inactive and consuming excess calories can lead to overweight and obesity placing undue stress on the heart and blood vessels. Obese individuals are often at risk of developing type 2 diabetes that potentially damages the blood vessels, heart, eyes, feet, and kidneys. Prevention is key to avoiding these devastating conditions. Change your lifestyle. Eat wholesome nutritious foods, stop smoking, and become more physically active.

For more details about the following specific categories, please click one of the links below:








Hyperlipidemia or High Cholesterol


What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body and needed for normal body function. When there is too much cholesterol (taken in from the diet) it is deposited in the walls of the arteries including those around the heart which can lead to narrowing of the arteries and to heart disease. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.


ü  In adults, total cholesterol levels from 200 to 239 mg/dL are considered borderline-high risk.

ü  Levels of 240 mg/dL or higher are considered high risk. 


There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, and anyone (even children) can develop high cholesterol. Many people do not know their cholesterol level, so you must have it checked to find out if you are at risk.  A simple blood test can tell you your level.

What are the different types of cholesterol and healthy levels in the body?1


Types of Cholesterol

Desirable Levels

Total Cholesterol

Less than 200 mg/dL

LDL (“bad” cholesterol)

Less than 100 mg/dL

HDL (“good cholesterol)

40 mg/dL or higher


Less than 150 mg/dL


What major health problem can high cholesterol lead to?

Heart disease, which is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Each year, more than a million Americans have heart attacks, and about a half million people die from heart disease.1

ü  People with heart disease and certain additional diseases, such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, have an even greater risk of heart attack

ü  About 1 of every 6 adult Americans has high blood cholesterol.2


Heart disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits, which can accumulate in your arteries. When this happens, your arteries can narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis.  This process of atherosclerosis (cholesterol buildup) can cause chest pain, the most common symptom of heart disease.


The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent high cholesterol—or to reduce your levels if they are high.

How can high cholesterol and heart disease be prevented?

ü  Eat a healthy diet

  • o   A high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in food that you eat can increase blood cholesterol.
    • §  Adults should limit total fat intake to 20-35% of their total daily calories
      • ·         The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10% of daily calories as saturated fat.
  • o   Saturated fats can be found in the following foods:
    • §  Cheeses
    • §  High-fat cuts of meat
    • §  Whole-fat milk and cream
    • §  Butter
    • §  Ice cream and ice cream products
    • §  Coconut oil

ü  Maintain a healthy weight

  • o   Being overweight can increase your cholesterol level
  • o   Losing weight can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol level, and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol level

ü  Exercise regularly

  • Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. You should try to be physically active for 30 to 40 minutes per day for most of the week.


For more information, check out the CDC’s Healthy Weight Web site which includes information and tools to help you lose weight:


How can high cholesterol be treated?

Lowering high cholesterol levels is important for people at all ages, with and without heart disease.  If you have high cholesterol, you will need to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and you may also need to take medication.  Talk to your health care provider for more information.


For more information on high cholesterol and heart disease prevention, please visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention:


American Heart Association:



  1. 1.    CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention website contains multiple tools and resources, information and data, and links to other websites on heart disease and stroke
  1. Schober SE, Carroll MD, Lacher DA, Hirsch R. High serum total cholesterol—an indicator for monitoring cholesterol lowering efforts; U.S. adults, 2005–2006. NCHS data brief no 2, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.


Overweight and Obesity 


Who is Overweight and Obesity affecting?

Overweight and obesity issues are affecting everyone, including children, adolescents, adults, and our elder population.  Overall, overweight and obesity strongly affect the different ethnic/racial groups more so than the Whites.

√  In the U.S., African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese, with four out of five African American women being overweight or obese.1

√  Among Mexican American women, 73% are overweight or obese, as compared to only 61.6 percent of the general female population.1

√  American Indian/Alaska Native women are 40% more likely than White women to be obese.1

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) (2007-2008), approximately 68% of adults are overweight or obese, with 75 million adult Americans considered obese.2

√  In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has:

    • More than doubled among children ages 2-5
    • Tripled among youth ages 6-11
    • More than tripled among adolescents ages 12-19


What health problems can Overweight and Obesity lead to?

√  Certain cancers

√  Diabetes (Type 2)

√  Heart disease

√  Heart failure

√  High cholesterol

√  Hypertension (high blood pressure)

√  Kidney disease


How can Overweight and Obesity be prevented?

Overweight and obesity can be prevented by reducing the calories in your diet and by increasing your physical activity levels.

√  Balance your Energy (Calorie Intake)

    • Your energy balance is the balance of calories taken-in through eating and drinking compared to calories burned through physical activity.
      • What you eat and drink = ENERGY IN.
      • What you burn through physical activity = ENERGY OUT.
        • People who are more physically active burn more calories than those who are not as physically active.
Weight is Balanced ENERGY IN = ENERGY OUT
Weight Gain More ENERGY IN than OUT
Weight Loss More ENERGY OUT than IN

√  Your ENERGY IN and OUT do not have to balance every day. 

√  It’s having a balance over time that will help you stay at a healthy weight for the long term.

    • Children need to balance their energy, too, but they’re also growing and that should be considered as well.


How do you estimate calorie requirements?

The calorie requirement chart below shows average amounts of calories needed to maintain energy balance (and a healthy body weight) for gender and age groups at three different levels of physical activity. The estimates are rounded to the nearest 200 calories and were determined using an equation from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Estimated Calorie Requirements (in kilocalories) for Each Gender and Age Group at Three Levels of Physical Activity


Age (years)

Activity Level

Sedentary: Light physical activity (typical day-to-day life)

Moderately Active:

Walking 1.5-3 miles per day plus light physical activity (typical day-to-day life)


Walking more than 3 miles per day at 3-4 miles per hour plus light physical activity (typical day-to-day life)




1,000 – 1,400

1,000 – 1,400


4 – 8


1,400 – 1,600

1,400 – 1,800




1,600 – 2,000

1,800 – 2,000









2,000 – 2,200











2,000 – 2,200




1,400 – 1,600

1,600 – 2,000




1,800 – 2,200

2,000 – 2,600




2,400 – 2,800

2,800 – 3,200




2,600 – 2,800





2,400 – 2,600

2,800 – 3,000




2,200 – 2,400

2,400 – 2,800

Source: HHS/USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2005



How do you follow a Healthy Eating Plan:

Eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.

  • Choose fresh or frozen food, instead of canned foods to keep your salt intake low as well.

Keep fish and lean meat and poultry portions to about 3 ounces (or the size of a deck of cards).

  • Bake, broil, or grill it.  Try to stay away from fried foods.

Eat foods that have less fat, less sugar, and less salt.

  • Look for low-fat, light products with low sodium on the labels.

Eat foods with more fiber such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, or brown rice.

  • Here are some ways to cut150 calories (ENERGY IN):
    • Drink water instead of a 12-ounce regular soda
    • Order a salad with lite dressing on the side, instead of french fries
    • Eat an egg-white omelet (example: Egg beaters), instead of whole eggs
    • Eat tuna canned in water (6-ounce can), instead of oil

Healthy Family Snacks2

  • Put sliced apples, berries, or whole-grain cereal on top of low-fat plain yogurt
  • Put a slice of low-fat or fat-free cheese on whole-grain crackers
  • Make a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber
  • Pop some low-fat, low-salt popcorn
  • Microwave or toast a soft tortilla with low-fat cheese, sliced peppers, and mushrooms to make a mini-burrito or quesadilla
  • Blend low-fat milk with a banana or strawberries and some ice for a smoothie

Heart Healthy Cooking Tips2

  • Cook with low-fat methods such as baking, broiling, boiling, or microwaving rather than frying
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and other condiments
  • Serve fruit, instead of cookies or ice cream, for dessert
  • Add salsa to baked potatoes, instead of butter or sour cream
  • Eat fruits canned in their own juice instead of syrup
  • Remove skin from poultry and discard before cooking
  • Cool soups and gravies and skim off fat before reheating to serve
  • Use the microwave because it’s fast and adds no fat or calories



  • Do More Physical Activity

Regular physical activity helps you maintain or lose your weight and reduce your risk for other health problems.  Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, try to get at least 30 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most or all days of the week.

You can do your exercise all at once or break it up into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. Moderate-intensity activities include fast walking, dancing, riding a bike, and cleaning the house.

You also may want to do more intense activities, such as jogging, swimming, and playing sports. If you’re overweight or obese, try to reduce your weight by 7 to 10 percent during your first year of treatment. This amount of weight loss can lower your risk for health problems related to diabetes and hypertension.

  • Here are some ways to burn 150 calories (ENERGY OUT), in just 30 minutes (for a 150 pound person):
    • Shoot hoops
    • Walk two miles
    • Do yard work (gardening, raking leaves, etc.)
    • Go for a bike ride
    • Dance with your family or friends


  • Quit Smoking
    • Smoking can harm your blood vessels and raise your risk for other health problems.
    • If you smoke or use tobacco, quit.  Also, take steps to protect yourself from second-hand smoke.
      • Ask for help to quit. Call 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669).



  1. CDC, 2010. Health United States, 2009. Table 72.
  2. We Can! Collaboration between the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Cancer Institute.

Additional Resources:

Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these guidelines can help you build good dietary habits that can reduce your risk of major chronic diseases.

Explore some sample eating plans. These plans—the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan—help you figure out how much of each food group (e.g., fruits, vegetables, grains, meats) you need to be eating each day.



Stop Brain Attacks:  End Stroke

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is when blood flow to your brain stops, and within a few minutes, the brain cells begin to die.  A stroke is a medical emergency.  There are two kinds of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke:  Caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain, which is more common
  • Hemorrhagic stroke:  Caused by a blood vessel that breaks and bleeds into the brain.

Stroke is the 3rd highest cause of death in the United States, following heart disease and cancer.1

On average, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke.1

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. 1


What health problems can lead to a Stroke?

Smoking:  Compared with nonsmokers, smokers on average have double the risk of ischemic stroke.

  • On the other hand, when subjects quit smoking, their risk of stroke returns to normal within two years.

Hormones:  Hormone replacement therapy with estrogen, used to relieve symptoms of menopause, have been found to significantly increase a woman’s risk of stroke.

  • Also, smokers who take birth control pills are at a higher risk of stroke, blood clots, and heart attacks than women on the pill who do not smoke.

High cholesterol:  Hyperlipidemia

  • If you have high cholesterol, this may result in the buildup of plaque, which may result in blocked blood vessels over time, leading to a stroke.

High blood pressure:  Hypertension.   

  • If you have high blood pressure, this may result in hardened arteries, however taking medications that your doctor prescribes to lower your blood pressure is important.

High blood sugar:  Diabetes

Heart disease

Physical inactivity is associated with higher stroke risk.


What factors prevent Stroke?

Follow a low-risk, healthy lifestyle:  Exercising, eating a healthy (low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt) diet, and not smoking.

Eat your vegetablesThe American Heart Association recommends people at higher risk of heart disease, which includes stroke, should make sure they eat several servings a day.

Take an aspirin per day, if your doctor recommends it:  Low-dose aspirin is regularly prescribed to prevent a second heart attack, stroke, or “mini-stroke” (transient ischemic attack=TIA) and also is given to patients who are at high risk of having such a cardiovascular event.

  • In patients with an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation), another blood thinner is also prescribed by the healthcare provider to help prevent stroke. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight

Limiting alcohol intake


The good news: Simple lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise) with medications can help prevent stroke risk. 


What are the Stroke warning signs?

1.    Stroke can present itself with many symptoms, but the main factor is that they come on suddenly. Call 911 immediately if you, or someone you’re with, experience any of the following:
2.    Sudden numbness or weakness, specifically on one side of the body            

  • This can be in the face, an arm, or a leg.  The National Stroke Association recommends that if someone you’re with appears to be experiencing these symptoms, ask the person to smile, lift both arms, or move both legs.  If one side of the body does not respond, it may be a sign of stroke.

3.    Sudden confusion or trouble speaking 

  •  If a person is having difficulty talking or understanding, ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.  If the speech is slurred or strange, this may be a sign of stroke.

4.    Sudden vision problems 

  •  Stroke can reduce sight in one or both eyes or cause double vision. It can also make it difficult to recognize a face or familiar objects.

5.    Sudden trouble moving.

  • Loss of balance or difficulty walking can be a sign of a stroke.

6.    Severe headache

  • A sudden painful headache may be a sign of a stroke, most often hemorrhagic stroke

If you or someone you know have any of these symptoms, you must proceed to a hospital quickly.  Acute stroke therapies try to stop a stroke while it is happening by quickly dissolving the blood clot or by stopping the bleeding.


For more information on Stroke, please visit:



  1. 1.    Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al., Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics–2011 Update : A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011;124: e426.
  2. 2.


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