Everyone needs to know about heart disease and about the kinds of habits and conditions that can raise risk. It’s your heart, and you’re in charge. Below is a basic guide to the most important risk factors for heart disease and how each of them affects a person's health.
Main Causes of Heart Disease
Smoking. You probably know that cigarette smoking causes breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know it also makes you more likely to have a heart attack? Every cigarette you smoke makes you more likely to get heart disease. Roughly 20% of deaths from heart disease is directly related to smoking. People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease.
High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is another major risk factor for heart disease, as well as for kidney disease and congestive heart failure.High blood pressure is also the most important risk factor for stroke. Major contributors to high blood pressure are a family history of the disease, overweight, and eating a diet high in salt and sodium. But all of us are at risk, especially as we grow older. Middle-aged Americans who don’t currently have high blood pressure have a 90% chance of eventually developing the disease. The good news is that you can take action to control or prevent high blood pressure, and thereby avoid many life-threatening disorders.
High Blood Cholesterol. The higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. To prevent these disorders, everyone should make a serious effort to keep their cholesterol at healthy levels. If you already have heart disease, it is particularly important to lower an elevated blood cholesterol level to reduce your high risk for a heart attack. People with diabetes also are at especially high risk for a heart attack. If you have diabetes, you will need to take steps to keep both your cholesterol and your diabetes under control.
Overweight and Obesity. A healthy weight is important for a long, vigorous life. Yet overweight and obesity have reached epidemic levels in the United States. The more overweight a person is, the higher their risk for heart disease. Being overweight also increases the risks for stroke, congestive heart failure, gallbladder disease, arthritis, and breathing problems, as well as for breast, colon, and other cancers. It is hard to overstate the dangers of an unhealthy weight. If you are overweight, you are more likely to develop heart disease even if you have no other risk factors.
Physical Inactivity. Physical inactivity raises your risk of heart disease. It boosts your chances of developing heart-related problems even if you have no other risk factors. It increases the likelihood that you will develop other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight. Fortunately, as little as 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week helps to protect your health. This level of activity can reduce your risk of heart disease as well as lower your chances of having a stroke, colon cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other medical problems.
Diabetes. Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. More than 65% of people who have diabetes die of some type of cardiovascular disease. In addition to increasing the risk for heart disease, it is the #1 cause of kidney failure, blindness, and lower limb amputation in adults. Diabetes can also lead to nerve damage and difficulties in fighting infection. The risk of type 2 diabetes rises after the age of 45. You are much more likely to develop this disease if you are overweight, especially if you have extra weight around your waist. Other risk factors include physical inactivity and a family history of diabetes.