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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


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

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