Heart Disease Risk Factors and Prevention

What predisposes one person to coronary artery disease more readily than others? The direct causes of coronary artery disease are still being studied. What we do know is that certain risk factors or elements of our lifestyle raise the risk of being affected by this disease.

Risk factors are tendencies that are inherited and habits that are learned which may increase your risk of having heart disease. Although some risk factors can’t be controlled or changed, you can control and change a number of risk factors in your own life with strict guidelines and help from your doctors. See all risk factors listed below.

Heart Disease Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed

  • Heredity – It has been noted that coronary artery disease can follow a familial line, most often passed from male to male. However, it should be noted that the disease itself is not directly inherited.
  • Sex– Men have a history of higher incidence of coronary artery disease than women. Female hormones offer protection to women up to menopause. This protection is canceled out in diabetic women. However, in recent years due to the changing habits of women, their incidence of heart disease has been on the rise.
  • Race– African-Americans have 45% or greater risk of heart attacks, hypertension, or strokes than Caucasians.
  • Age– As a person becomes older the death rate increases from heart disease. This factor is due to normal wear and tear from the constant use of the arteries over the years of life.

Three Contributing Factors to Heart Disease

  • Obesity – Excess weight is a fairly common risk factor. The heart is designed to supply a certain amount of weight, depending on sex and build. If a person is 10 lbs. overweight, their body must function with a tiring factor in-place at all times. Image giving a person a 10 lb. bag of sand and telling them to carry it for the rest of their lives without ever putting it down. That work drains precious energy from the heart. Also, extra body fat requires miles of extra blood vessels to supply it. This means the heart must pump blood through all those extra miles. Obesity tends to influence hypertension, fat, or lipids in the blood and diabetes, all of which lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Exercise – Many of us get lots of movement in our everyday routines of work and play. However, this type of movement is not aerobic and does not give the heart the maximum benefits of exercise. For an activity to be “aerobic” it simply means it must be uninterrupted, continuous movements for 20-30 minutes using the large muscles in the body ( e.g. the arms and legs). This kind of exercise causes an increase in oxygen intake and use throughout the body. This type of exercise fine-tunes your heart, making it easier to function. This must be done at least 3-4 times a week at your target heart rate. Remember to have warm-up and cool-down periods with each exercise session so as not to put excess stress on your heart.
  • Stress – Tension or stress, not frequently relieved, causes the arteries to be in a prolonged constricted state due to extra adrenaline in the body. With arteries constricted, there is a decrease in the amount of blood flow to the heart and to the body. Unrelieved stress can also exaggerate other cardiac risk factors, namely high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excessive eating, and smoking.

Heart Disease Risk Factors That Can Be Changed

Blood Cholesterol

Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol will help decrease your blood cholesterol. Exercise will help to increase your HDL or “good cholesterol.” If following a low fat, low cholesterol diet along with exercise does not decrease your cholesterol then you doctor may prescribe medication to help with this problem.

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure at which the blood is being pumped through the arteries. Blood pressure is measured in two numbers, an example being 120/70. The higher number is the systolic reading or the amount of pressure being exerted on the blood vessel during the peak of the heartbeat. The lower or diastolic reading is the amount of pressure that is exerted on the blood vessel during a state of rest between heartbeats. If the systolic pressure exceeds 140, or if the diastolic pressure exceeds 90, or if both systolic and diastolic pressure is above normal, then you have high blood pressure or hypertension.

The inside lining of a normal artery wall is smooth but can be damaged by constantly high blood pressure, causing it to become rough. The rough lining on the artery wall then makes it more prone to deposits of cholesterol and fats in the blood. A physician may recommend a low salt diet, weight reduction, or an exercise program for patients with a sedentary lifestyle to help reduce high blood pressure.

It is important to get the high blood pressure under control whether it is with medication, diet, exercise, or weight reduction, and keep it under control. If the blood pressure is under control there is less risk of heart disease and stroke. As with other medications, a person should never stop taking their prescribed high blood pressure medication without first consulting their doctor.

Smoking and Tobacco Usage

A person who smokes or uses tobacco is twice as prone to have a heart attack as someone who does not smoke. This is due to the fact that smoking causes the oxygen in your bloodstream to be replaced by carbon monoxide. The nicotine in tobacco causes the heart to work harder by narrowing the blood vessels. Both of these are contributing factors to high blood pressure.

When making the decision to quit smoking and tobacco usage, it is important to be aware of and prepare for common withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms include irritability, fatigue, increased appetite, boredom, insomnia, and fuzzy-headedness. These physical symptoms will usually last 3-5 days as your body rids itself of the chemicals in the tobacco, and will decrease as each day passes.

Take it one day at a time. You will find you have more energy and endurance to enjoy life. There may be resources in your community that offers smoking cessation classes to help you quit smoking as well as support groups for those going through the same struggles that you are.


Diabetes can injure the lining of the arteries in the same way as smoking and hypertension, causing roughening and loss of elasticity. Blood sugar that is not well controlled can cause elevated triglycerides in the blood, which are a kind of liquid fat and have been implicated in the advancement of coronary artery disease. Poor blood sugar control can also lead to lowered levels of HDL, or good cholesterol. Silent heart disease, that is heart disease with no obvious symptoms, such as angina, can occur more often in diabetics. It is possible for diabetes to damage nerve-endings within the body to the point that any sensation is lost and a diabetic person would not feel chest pain.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.