Taking care of your heart is one of the most important things you can do to live a long and healthy life. You can modify, treat or control most risk factors by focusing on your lifestyle habits or, if needed, taking medicine.
The first steps in preventing heart disease are knowing the risk factors and taking action to reduce the ones that can be controlled. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age, gender or heredity; others can be modified, treated or controlled through lifestyle changes or by taking medicine.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
About four out of five people who die of heart disease are age 65 or older.
Men have a greater risk of heart disease than women, and they have heart attacks earlier in life.
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe cases of high blood pressure than whites and have a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes among those populations.
Most people with a family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can't control your age, gender and race, you can't control your family history. If you have one or more uncontrollable risk factors, it's even more important to treat the factors you are able to control.
Smokers' risk of heart attack is more than twice that of non-smokers. Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death; smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers. Smokers who have a heart attack are more likely to die and die suddenly (within an hour) than are nonsmokers.
Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for heart disease. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn't as great as cigarette smokers'. Constant exposure to other people's smoke - called environmental tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke or passive smoking - increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers. Novant Health offers a smoking cessation program to help reduce your heart and vascular disease risk due to tobacco smoke. Learn More »
The risk of heart and vascular disease increases as blood cholesterol levels increase. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity and diet.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. It also increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.
An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise is important in preventing heart disease. Even moderate-intensity physical activities are beneficial if done regularly and long-term. More vigorous activities are associated with more benefits. Exercise can help control cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people. Learn More »
People who have excess body fat - especially if a lot of it is in the waist area - are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the strain on the heart, raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. It can also increase your risk of developing diabetes. Many obese and overweight people have difficulty losing weight. By losing 10 to 20 pounds, you can help lower your heart and vascular disease risk. Learn More »
Diabetes seriously increases the risk of developing heart disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of some form of heart disease. If you have diabetes, it is critically important to work with your healthcare provider to manage your diabetes and control any other modifiable risk factors. Learn More »