Heart Disease Risk Factors
About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Some of the risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Many people with heart disease have a family history of heart problems. You're more likely to have heart disease if one of your parents had it. Be sure to let your doctor know if anyone in your family has experienced a heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your risk of heart problems as well. Leading a healthy lifestyle helps keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, but genetic factors can sometimes raise blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Tell your doctor if you have family members with these conditions. You might need to take medication to lower your risk of heart disease.
Smoking, obesity, and poor diet significantly increase your risk of heart problems. Improving your lifestyle can help keep your heart healthy. Your doctor can offer guidance on weight loss and smoking cessation.
Causes for Increased Risk of Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is a medical condition that occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
- High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Diabetes mellitus also increases the risk for heart disease. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Read our guide for more information on preventing and living with Diabetes.
- Fatty Diets
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and related conditions, such as atherosclerosis. Also, too much salt (sodium) in the diet can raise blood pressure levels.
- Lacl of Physical Activity
Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease. It also can increase the chances of having other medical conditions that are risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to heart disease, obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Too Much Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, which can harden your arteries.
- Smoking Cigarettes
Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart attack. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Exposure to other people’s secondhand smoke can increase the risk for heart disease even for nonsmokers.
Unfortunately, a factor you can't control that will likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions is genetics. The risk for heart disease can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes and eating an unhealthy diet.