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Heart disease - risk factors

A risk factor is something about you that increases your chance of getting a disease or having a certain health condition. Some risk factors for heart disease you cannot change, but some you can. Changing the risk factors that you have control over may help you live a longer, healthier life.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

Some of your heart disease risks that you CANNOT change are:

  • Your age. Risk of heart disease increases with age.
  • Your gender. Men have a higher risk of getting heart disease than women who are still menstruating. After menopause, the risk for women gets closer to the risk for men.
  • Your genes or race. If your parents had heart disease, you are at higher risk. African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk for heart problems.

Risk Factors You Can Change

Some of the risks for heart disease that you CAN change are:

  • Not smoking. If you do smoke, quit.
  • Controlling your cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medicines.
  • Controlling high blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Controlling diabetes through diet, exercise, and medicines, if needed.
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Keeping to a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, eating less, and joining a weight loss program, if you need to lose weight.
  • Learning healthy ways to cope with stress through special classes or programs, or things like meditation or yoga.
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink to 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men.

Good nutrition is important to your heart health and will help control some of your risk factors.

  • Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Choose lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans and legumes.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products, such as 1% milk and other low-fat items.
  • Avoid sodium (salt) and fats found in fried foods, processed foods, and baked goods.
  • Eat fewer animal products that contain cheese, cream, or eggs.
  • Read labels, and stay away from "saturated fat" and anything that contains "partially-hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated" fats. These products are usually loaded with unhealthy fats.

Follow these guidelines and the advice of your doctor to lower your chances of developing heart disease.

Alternate Names

Heart disease - prevention

References

Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, Miller NH, Hubbard VS, Nonas CA, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC Guidelines on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 Nov 7. pii: S0735-1097(13)06029-4. [Epub ahead of print]

Hansson GK, Hamsten A. Atherosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 70.

Ridker PM, Libby P, Buring JE. Risk markers and primary prevention of coronary heart disease. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 42.

Update Date: 8/12/2014

Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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