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Risk Factors

Heart disease is America’s number one killer claiming nearly 1400 lives daily. The tragedy is that many could have been prevented if people were aware of the risk factors for heart disease.

While there are no hard and fast rules for preventing heart attacks and other coronary diseases, knowing these risk factors can help point the way to a healthier lifestyle, generally better physical fitness, as well as a healthy heart. The exact cause of coronaryartery blockage is unknown. However, there are eight risk factors associated with heart disease. All but one of these, heredity, can be controlled by you and your doctor.

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol level in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity (being overweight)
  • Stress
  • Family history of coronary artery disease


Cigarette smokers develop coronary disease at a rate three to six times greater than nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking accelerates the buildup of cholesterol and fat deposits in the coronary arteries, increases the heart rate and blood pressure and decreases the level of oxygen received by the heart muscle. Cigarette smokers have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than do nonsmokers. Heavy smokers, who indulge in more than two packs a day, have almost a fourfold greater risk.
Studies have shown that stopping cigarette smoking can reduce the risk almost to that of someone who never has smoked and that your chance of surviving a heart attack is much greater once you quit.


Cholesterol is a soft, fatlike substance transported in the blood. The body manufactures cholesterol to bad cell walls and hormones. Additional cholesterol enters the blood when food containing cholesterol is eaten.

A high fat diet plus high excess dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. The more cholesterol in your blood, the more likely your arteries will become clogged over time, leading to a higher risk for heart disease. To find out if your cholesterol poses a risk to you and if you should reduce your intake of saturated fats, have your doctor test your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Information about foods high in cholesterol and fat can be obtained from your physician, dietitian or American Heart Association.

High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure (hypertension) has been strongly linked to heart disease and stroke. Most physicians consider a reading of 140/90 higher than normal. If your blood pressure is high and not controlled, your risk of having a heart attack is eight times greater than a person whose blood pressure is under control.

Moderately high blood pressure can be controlled through diet, the loss of weight, increased exercise and reducing the salt in your diet. A variety of drugs also can be used to treat blood pressures more than moderately high.


Controlling diabetes is a major factor in preventing heart disease. One of the effects of diabetes on the body is an excessive buildup of sugar associated with a rise in fatty substances in the blood. Diabetes can be controlled through proper medication, diet and exercise. Regular medical checkups can insure its early detection thereby reducing the risk of heart attack or even stroke.


Exercise is very important in conditioning your heart. In addition to controlling weight, exercise can help improve your circulation, sense of well being and cardiovascular health. While strenuous exercise may not be right for everyone, walking certainly is. A brisk 10 minute walk will expend 75 calories. It is advised you consult your physician before undertaking any unusually strenuous exercise


Obesity, according to the American Heart Association, is a risk factor for many people because extra weight leads to high blood pressure and adult onset diabetes, which is strongly linked to heart disease. There is a three times greater risk of suffering a heart attack if you are a significantly overweight middle-aged man. So count those calories. Either reduce your intake, increase your activities or do both to reach your recommended weight. Consult your physician for a weight loss and exercise program suitable for YOU.


Stress can be a driving, nerve-wracking tension of a zest for living. It is how we channel stress that determines our health and well being.

Linking stress to heart disease has not been proven, but it is highly suspect. Stress can cause your blood cholesterol level to rise and your heart to beat faster, along with other chemical changes in your body. Leisure time is an important factor in controlling stress. On the average everyone has hours of leisure time each day. To help reduce stress or anxiety, try to relax during your leisure time. For example, if you work constantly under the pressures of deadlines, then go home and walk or jog without a watch. Leisure activities can provide a sense of accomplishment as well as physical and mental well-being.


Heredity is the only uncontrollable element of risk. Although it is impossible to change your family background, you should be aware if your family has a history of heart disease. This may increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Texas Surgical Associates