Risk Factors Affecting Heart Disease

February 14, 2008

There are many factors-personal, lifestyle, hereditary, and medical-that can affect your risk for developing heart disease. Some factors, such as smoking, are within your power to control. Others, such as a family history of heart disease, are risks that you have to live with. But one thing is certain, by working to eliminate those risk factors that are controllable, and by adopting a healthier lifestyle in general, you can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease.

Personal Risk Factors

Personal risk factors refer to your age, sex, and ethnic background. Women, as a group, have fewer heart attacks than men. Women under the age of 55 are at least risk, while men over the age of 65 are at greatest risk. Your ethnic background can also affect your heart disease risk, since some ethnic groups have higher rates of medical conditions that can affect heart disease. Blacks, for instance, have a greater incidence of hypertension while Native Americans are more prone to diabetes.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

By lifestyle risk factors, we mean those risk factors that are a result of personal lifestyle choices. Smoking is the number one risk factor for heart disease (as well as for stroke and many forms of cancer). High fat, high cholesterol diets also add to your heart disease risk. Lack of exercise, inability to manage stress, and excessive use of alcohol (more than one to two drinks daily) also raise your risk of developing heart disease.

Hereditary Risk Factors

Certain risk factors are hereditary. For instance, if one or more of your relatives died of a heart attack before age 60, you are at greater risk than if no one in your family suffered a fatal heart attack before that age. If high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or diabetes run in your family, there is a greater possibility that you may suffer from these heart-threatening conditions.

Medical Risk Factors

Many medical conditions can affect your heart’s health. Hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes (both juvenile diabetes and adult-onset diabetes), congenital heart disease (heart defects present at birth), rheumatic fever, and hyperlipidemia (too much fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream), are all examples of medical conditions that increase your heart disease risk.

Reducing Your Risk

Heart disease risk is cumulative. That means that the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for heart disease. You can begin to reduce your risk by managing those factors that are within your control. Personal, hereditary, and medical factors aside, you can reduce your heart disease risk significantly by stopping smoking, eating a low fat, low cholesterol diet, managing stress, exercising regularly, and following your doctor’s advice regarding blood pressure control. Your heart will be healthier, and so will you!

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