Heart disease: risk factors

In order to function properly, your heart needs a large and continuous stream of oxygen-enriched blood, which is supplied directly to your heart muscle through your coronary arteries. If your coronary arteries become clogged, blocked, inflamed, infected, or injured, the blood flow to your heart will be reduced, which can cause injury to your heart muscle and in turn lead to heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some of the more common outcomes of heart disease include myocardial infarction (heart attack), angina (inadequate blood flow to the heart that can cause chest pain), and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).

General risk factors for heart disease

Those you can't change:
  • Family history: Genetic predisposition can play a role in the development of heart disease. Your doctor will want to know if you have a family history of heart disease.
  • Age: Wear and tear on your body is cumulative. The heart is no exception. The older you are, the more wear and tear your system will have and the greater the risk of your system not functioning as it did when you were younger.
  • Gender: Women after menopause and men over 55 years old are at greater risk of heart disease.
Those you can change:
  • Smoking: Smoking reduces the blood's oxygen level, injures artery walls, and raises your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • High-fat diet: Diets high in fat, especially saturated fats, increase the risk of fatty buildup in the arteries.
  • High blood cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fatty substance required by your body to make cells. But your body only needs a certain amount. High blood cholesterol can cause arteriosclerosis.
  • Physical inactivity: Regular exercise helps to strengthen your heart muscle and keep it in good working order.
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure:Hypertension means your blood is hitting too hard against your artery walls. High blood pressure can increase your risk of stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, heart attack, and kidney damage.
  • Obesity: Being significantly overweight or obese increases your blood pressure, causing your heart to work too hard on less oxygen, and it increases your risk of diabetes.
  • Stress: Stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn causes damage to your arteries and heart.
  • Diabetes: Men with diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar) have 3 or 4 times the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis, resulting in angina, heart attacks, strokes, or peripheral vascular disease. Women with diabetes are at an even higher risk - probably 4 times that of non-diabetic women.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team

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