heart disease

Although heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States for decades — killing about 647,000 people annually — in New Hampshire, it surpassed cancer in 2018 for the first time in more than a decade, the state health department announced Monday.

In 2018, 2,640 Granite Staters died from heart disease, compared to 2,540 from cancer, according to the state agency. Numbers for 2019 are not yet available.

“Heart disease” is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions, the most common of which is coronary artery disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking, poor diet, a lack of exercise, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure can all raise one’s risk of heart disease.

Affecting one in three U.S. adults, high blood pressure can have no symptoms. It is the focus of this year’s American Heart Month (February), New Hampshire health officials said.

“Many people do not know they have high blood pressure,” Dr. Sai Cherala, bureau chief of population health and community services for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a news release from the agency. “Be sure to have your blood pressure checked at your physician’s office, a pharmacy, or at home.”

And if your blood pressure is high, Cherala noted, there are steps you can take to lower it.

Tips for reducing blood pressure and other heart-disease risk factors include eating a diet low in salt, saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, not smoking and walking at a quick clip for 10 minutes, three times a day, five days per week, according to the release. Health providers can also prescribe medications to help lower one’s risk.