Multiple risk factors for heart disease

Knowing your personal risk is the first step in identifying what you need to do to prevent heart disease. A wide variety of things can increase your risk of developing heart disease – some of which you can change, and some you can't.

The things that you can't modify that increase your risk of heart disease include:

  • your age. Your risk increases as you get older.
  • your relatives. A family history of heart disease such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, or stroke, especially if occurring before age 55, increases your risk (before menopause for female relatives).
  • your sex. Men are generally at greater risk than women. For women, the risk increases after menopause.
  • your ethnicity. People of African, South Asian, and Indigenous descent are more prone to heart disease.

There are some things that you can do that may help, depending on your risk factors:

  • lower your cholesterol
  • lower your blood pressure
  • quit smoking
  • drink no more than 3 alcoholic drinks per day (or 15 per week) for men, or no more than 2 drinks per day (or 10 per week) for women
  • get more physical activity
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • manage stress
  • take control of your diabetes

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and whether you need any medical tests to evaluate your risk of developing heart disease.

Did you know that once you know your risk factors, it's possible to estimate your chances of developing some form of heart disease in the next 10 years? The calculation is based on information from the Framingham Heart Study. This large research study, which started in 1948, looked at risk factors for heart disease in people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. They studied the impact of each risk factor and came up with a method of estimating heart disease risk based on these risk factors.

Heart disease doesn't happen overnight. It can take years for the risks associated with cholesterol to turn into a heart attack or stroke. And the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk.

You can ask your doctor to calculate your heart disease risk for you. Knowing your 10-year risk of developing heart disease can help you and your doctor decide on a treatment plan and set treatment goals.

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