Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans (47%) have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.1 Jay Harold found info from the CDC to create this post, “4 Heart Disease Risk Factors & Behaviors: Plus More,” to combat the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 20162 (647,457)
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.
Several medical conditions can increase your risk of heart disease3 . If you have one of these conditions, you can take steps to control it and lower your risk.
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 blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because many people do not notice symptoms to signal high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle or by medication can reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
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.
Some cholesterol is “good,” and some is “bad.” High cholesterol is the term used for high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which are considered “bad” because they
can lead to heart disease. A higher level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL, is considered “good” because it provides
some protection against heart disease.
A blood test can detect the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood.
Diabetes mellitus also increases the risk of heart disease. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in 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.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. The risk of death from heart disease for adults with diabetes is higher than adults who do not have diabetes. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.
Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol levels. In addition to heart disease, obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. Talk to your health care team about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level.
Heart Disease Behavior4
Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle. The good news is that healthy behaviors can lower your risk for heart disease.
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.
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. Regular physical activity can lower your risk for heart disease.
Too Much Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk of heart disease. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, which can harden your arteries.
- Women should have no more than 1 drink a day.
- Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day.
Tobacco use increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. 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 of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
Family History and Other Characteristics Increase Risk for Heart Disease5
Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. Heart disease can run in a family, and your risk for heart disease can increase based on your age, and your race, or ethnicity.
Genetics and Family History
When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.
Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.
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.
Find out more about genetics and disease on CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics web site.
Both men and women can have heart disease. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age, sex, and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for heart disease.
- Age. Your risk for heart disease increases as you get older.
- Sex. Heart disease was the number one killer of both men and women in 2013.
- Race or ethnicity. In 2013 heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States for non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and American Indians. For Hispanics, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.1
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