Knowing Your Risk for Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Heart disease can affect anyone, although there are several risk factors to be aware of.

By Natalie Counts

Increasing Age

According to the American Heart Association, over 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.

Gender

Men have a greater risk of heart attack, and they have attacks earlier in life. Women tend to be less aware of their risk. Only 55 percent of women realize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer, and alarmingly, less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol.

Heredity

Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and 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. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors as well .

Smoking

Smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2–4 times that of nonsmokers. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn’t as great as cigarette smokers’.

High Blood Cholesterol

As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors are present, this risk increases even more.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload and 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.

Physical Inactivity

An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate -to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease and can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure.

Excess Weight & Obesity

Excess body fat puts people at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart’s workload, raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop.

Diabetes

Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled.

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