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Risk Factors

Do you know your risk for heart disease? Learn what increases our cardiovascular risk and how we can reduce or control risk factors that we may have.

  • Is red meat bad for my heart?
  • Red meat contains high levels of fat and cholesterol, which can clog our arteries and increase risk for heart disease. Research also suggests that a substance contained in red meat, called carnitine, may increase levels of the chemical TMAO, which increases cardiovascular risk. To promote heart health, it’s important to limit consumption of red meat to once a week or less and maintain a balanced diet full of lean protein, fresh vegetables and whole grains.
  • Is it healthy to drink alcohol on a daily basis?
  • In moderation, research shows that alcohol consumption (one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men) may lower risk for heart disease. However, exceeding these limits can have serious effects on cardiovascular and overall health.
  • Are women less likely to develop heart disease than men?
  • Contrary to the perception that heart disease is a “man’s disease,” heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. In fact, more women die each year from heart disease than men. That’s why it’s important that women understand their risk for heart disease and take steps to reduce any risk factors they may have.
  • Are women more likely than men to experience 'atypical' heart attack symptoms?
  • For men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or pressure. But women don’t always have this telltale symptom and can experience other symptoms, like sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, back or jaw pain, an irregular heartbeat and lightheadedness. It’s important to call 911 and seek immediate medical help if you experience any of these unexplained symptoms.
  • How dangerous is smoking?
  • Tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death, especially as it relates to heart disease.

  • Who is at risk for pulmonary embolism?
  • Although anyone can develop blood clots leading to pulmonary embolism, it’s more common in individuals that are older, immobile for long periods of time, have undergone surgery, have a family history of blood clots, or have certain medical conditions (heart disease, pregnancy, cancer, previous blood clots). Certain lifestyle conditions can also increase your risk of pulmonary embolism, including smoking, being overweight, and taking supplemental estrogen.
  • How does sodium intake affect heart health?
  • Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which causes an estimated 45% of heart disease in the United States. By limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day (or 1,500 mg for some adults), you can drastically reduce your risk for heart disease.
  • How does sedentary time affect heart health?
  • Many studies have shown that time spent inactive—sitting or lying down—can have a negative impact on our health, increasing risk for heart disease and diabetes. Experts suggest that limiting or reducing sedentary time can help improve heart health, even if it means simply standing up or walking instead of sitting down for an hour or two a day.
  • Why is it important to know your BMI and waist circumference?
  • BMI can be helpful in determining if you’re a healthy weight or not, but it’s not 100% accurate. If you have very little or very high amounts of muscle, your BMI will be skewed. Also, research has shown that how we carry weight is more important than our BMI when it comes to risk for heart disease. Belly fat is a known risk factor for heart disease and carrying excess weight around the midsection raises cardiovascular risk, regardless of BMI.
  • How are diet and stroke risk related?
  • The relationship between diet and risk for stroke is often overlooked. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, and diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Having a balanced diet, low in salt and full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for stroke.
  • If I have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), should I be concerned about having a stroke?
  • Yes. TIAs are considered a warning sign that a true stroke may happen in the near future, especially if risk factors aren’t addressed and reduced. Many people who have had a TIA will have a stroke within 30 days of their TIA, so seeking treatment to reduce risk factors is important to reducing risk of having a stroke.
  • How does relationship status reduce the risk of a heart attack?
  • Being married—or even having a roommate—improves the chances of getting medical help in the event of an emergency rather than living alone. More importantly, however, experts believe that having a partner could explain the association between marital status and cardiovascular risk. Spouses often advocate for each other's health and serve as good support systems for making healthier choices.
  • How can older adults improve and extend quality of life?
  • The best way for older adults to live longer and healthier is to prevent and manage chronic conditions through physical activity and diet. It’s important to reduce and control any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, and to take advantage of preventive services like health screenings and immunizations.
  • How can adults improve their optimism?
  • Although research is needed to determine effective interventions to promote optimism, addressing mental health may be just as important as addressing physical health. By taking steps to reduce stress and improve ones outlook on life, risk for heart disease and stroke can be decreased.
  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.
  • How does heart attack risk differ in men and women?
  • Although risk factors for heart attack are similar among men and women, women are more likely to have more serious heart attacks, resulting in death. Women also tend to experience atypical symptoms of heart attack, such as abdominal pain, heartburn, clammy skin, dizziness and fatigue. It is important to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of either typical or atypical heart attack symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.
  • What are the most common heart attack symptoms in women?
  • The most common symptoms of heart attack in women include discomfort or pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach; nausea or vomiting; trouble breathing; breaking out in a cold sweat; dizziness or lightheadedness; inability to sleep; unusual fatigue and clammy skin. However, women may experience all, none, many or just a few of these heart attack symptoms.
  • What if I have tried to learn more about my health but still have trouble understanding?
  • Patients who have trouble understanding their health conditions should ask for help from their health care team, whether it's a doctor, nurse or counselor. Health care providers can help point patients to a variety of resources that can cater to individual needs.
  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • What is aortic stenosis and how does it progress over time?

  • Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve does not open fully, which can obstruct normal blood flow and put extra stress on the heart. Aortic stenosis can start out mild, but worsen over time as the area of the aortic valve decreases lessening the amount of blood flowing from the heart. Patients with aortic stenosis should be continually monitored by a cardiologist to track the progression of this condition, and strenuous activity should be avoided in those with moderate to severe aortic stenosis.
  • What is cognitive impairment?

  • Cognitive impairment is reduced brain function associated with problems around memory, language, thinking and judgment. This condition often comes with old age, but can also occur as a result of cardiovascular risk factors or stroke.
  • What is a healthy blood pressure?

  • For adults, a healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure is considered elevated between 120–139 mmHg systolic (top number) or between 80–89 mmHg diastolic. Chronic high blood pressure, known as hypertension, occurs when systolic blood pressure is more than 140 mmHg or the diastolic systolic blood pressure is more than 90 mmHg.
  • What is a "healthy" amount of TV viewing?

  • Based on study findings, Americans should limit their TV viewing to less than 2 hours each day. However, a “healthy” amount of TV viewing may vary depending on the health of the viewer. For example, if you watch more than 2 hours of TV each day but exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet and weight, you will likely have less risk for conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes than those with a less healthy lifestyle.
  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • What is a biomarker?

  • Biomarkers found in the blood or tissue may be used to indicate a normal or abnormal process, a condition or disease, or how the body is reacting to treatment.

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