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Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Monday 24 August 2020
Cardiovascular Disorders

Table of Contents


I. Understanding Heart Disease

II. Obesity and High Cholesterol

III. Diet and Alcohol

IV. Diabetes

V. High Blood Pressure

VI. Smoking


Understanding Heart Disease

Heart disease involves several types of cardiovascular conditions that can affect people of all genders and backgrounds. As the heart ages, you are more likely to have problems, so older people are more at risk for heart disease. Along with age, there are several reasons why a person may be at risk for heart disease, including genetics and lifestyle habits.

Around 1 in 3 Americans possess at least one key risk factor for heart disease, so it is essential for adults to keep an eye on their heart health. [1] There are four general categories of heart disease: heart rhythm disorders, coronary artery and vascular disease, structural heart disease, and heart failure. Each of these conditions come with their symptoms, but common signs of heart problems include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat

Medication for heart problems depends on the type you are experiencing. Your doctor will examine your condition and prescribe medications, such as captopril, Bystolic (nebivolol), or Coreg (carvedilol). [2] Learn more about risk factors for heart disease below.

Obesity and High Cholesterol

Obesity is the presence of excess body fat. The Center for Disease Control reported that 42.4 percent of American adults from 2017-2018 were classified as obese. Heart disease and stroke and type 2 diabetes are the leading causes of preventable, premature death. [3]

a diagram examining how the heart blood vessels become blocked

Being overweight can increase your chances of developing high cholesterol levels. Being obese can lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which can impact your health. HDL is needed to remove bad cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by the liver and found in certain foods. A surplus of cholesterol can lead to a build-up in the walls of arteries and make blood flow to the heart more difficult.

If you are overweight and have a family history of heart disease, you should consult your doctor about developing a diet and exercise plan. When your weight reaches a healthy level, you are less likely to develop weight-related illnesses like heart disease. Bariatric or gastric band surgery is one option for those with weight problems. [1]

Diet and Alcohol

If you want to avoid obesity, you have to start with a healthy balanced diet. If you eat foods high in saturated fats, trans fat, or cholesterol, you are at risk for obesity and heart disease. Foods high in trans-fat include baked goods, stick margarine, fried foods, and frozen pizza. [4] It is essential to replace those foods with healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You may also want to control your portion size so as not to overeat. If you are on a weight loss journey, you may want to keep a food journal to measure how much you eat to understand your eating habits better. [5]

Excessive drinking can also severely affect any pre-existing heart problems. Many medications do not mix well with alcohol, so consult your doctor if you want to drink every once and awhile.  Alcohol also has a lot of empty calories and sugars, which can worsen weight problems. [6]

Diabetes

In many people, diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand. If you have diabetes, you are twice as likely to have heart disease or suffer from a stroke. Having diabetes is not a guarantee of heart disease, but your risk goes up the longer you live with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most common for those at risk for heart disease. Type 2 is often preventable and occurs when your body does not make enough insulin to metabolize sugar (glucose) in the body. Damage to cardiovascular processes occurs when glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

a person pricking their finger to test their blood sugar

If you have uncontrolled diabetes, then high blood glucose can eventually damage your blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. Adults with diabetes are twice as likely to die from heart disease than those without diabetes. [7]

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured by blood pumping out of the heart and into the arteries and the rest of the circulatory system. This is known as systolic pressure. The second type of pressure, diastolic, is created when the heart rests between heartbeats. If that pressure is too great, then you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

You may not feel high blood pressure, but it can lead to heart disease if left unchecked. If the arteries or vessels are under strain, then the heart's workload is increased and makes it work less efficiently. If plaque or cholesterol accumulates in the vessels, then arteries narrow and raise the blood pressure. This is known as atherosclerosis. [8]

Smoking

Smoking is a leading cause of heart problems in adults. You do not have to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes a day to see effects on your heart. You can smoke less than five cigarettes a day and still see significant damage to the cardiovascular system. Non-smokers can also develop heart disease if they are in an environment with second-hand smoke.

a cigarette being stubbed out on a calendar

The chemicals in cigarettes irritate the lining of blood vessels, causing them to become inflamed and swollen. Over time, this can also narrow the blood vessels, making it more difficult for blood to circulate. Smoking can cause the following heart problems:

Atherosclerosis: This problem involves a narrowing of vessels due to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Smoking increases the buildup of plaque.

Stroke: When blood flow is interrupted to the brain, a stroke occurs. When the blood flow to the brain is interrupted because of a blocked artery or popped blood vessel. Smoking increases your risk of stroke.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm: The aorta is an important artery that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Smoking can cause damage to the abdominal aorta, leading to a bulge or weakening area in the abdomen. If this artery ruptures, it can be life-threatening. [9]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.