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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.

  • Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation?

  • Increased age, heart disease, high blood pressure, alcohol abuse and chronic cardiovascular conditions can increase risk for atrial fibrillation. Family history of this condition may also increase risk, as atrial fibrillation may be genetic.
  • Who is at risk for angina?
  • Those at greatest risk for angina include individuals with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Excess stress, smoking, older age and a lack of exercise can also increase risk for angina. Fortunately, most of these risk factors can be reduced by working with your doctor and making positive lifestyle changes.
  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Risk for hypertension increases with age, and most adults will eventually be affected by this condition at some time in their lives. However, diabetes, obesity, stress, high sodium intake, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use can greatly increase risk for high blood pressure.
  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

  • Why might hostility increase risk for heart disease?

  • Although the exact cause of this relationship is unknown, researchers suggest that hostility may increase blood pressure, which puts strain on the heart and can increase cardiovascular risk. It is also possible that the type of people who often become hostile are less likely to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle and/or decrease any risk factors they may have.
  • Why is someone with atrial fibrillation at risk for a stroke?

  • Normally, blood is constantly flowing through the atria, ventricles and blood vessels. But because blood pools in the quivering atria, it has the chance to congeal into blood clots, which can travel to the brain, blocking blood flow and causing a stroke. That’s why patients with atrial fibrillation must take some form of anti-clotting medication such as aspirin or the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin).

    Not wanting to take lifelong blood thinners is one of the reasons people have radiofrequency ablation to rid themselves of atrial fibrillation. However, researchers in the new study advised anyone who has already had a stroke to continue taking blood thinners, since atrial fibrillation can return even after a successful radiofrequency ablation procedure.
  • Why is stroke so prevalent worldwide?
  • Due to better lifestyle guidelines and medical advances, more people are living longer. Older individuals have increased risk for stroke based on age, so a larger proportion of populations are at high risk. Also, major risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are increasing worldwide, which can increase the incidence of stroke.
  • Why would air pollution trigger heart attacks?

  • Although further research is needed to better understand the relationship between pollution and heart attacks, experts believe that short-term exposure to air pollution may trigger inflammation and promote blood clotting, increasing risk for a cardiac event.
  • Why does the stroke belt have increased cardiovascular risk?

  • There are many explanations for increased cardiovascular risk in the region, such as poor diet and reduced physical activity among residents. Race also plays a large factor, as there is a high African-American population, which is affected by heart disease and stroke more than other races.
  • Why does smoking increase risk for heart disease?

  • Smoking causes plaque build up in the arteries, which reduces the flow of blood to the heart and body, increasing blood pressure. Over time, this can put an extreme strain on the heart and other parts of the body.
  • Why is hypertension so common in older individuals?

  • As arteries harden with age, systolic blood pressure increases, which measures the amount of pressure exerted on arteries and vessels by blood pumping through the body. The normal range for systolic blood pressure is 90-120mmHg in adults, and under 140mmHg in older individuals.
  • Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

  • According to QuitNet.com, smokers face both a physical addiction and a psychological addiction. The physical addiction comes from the way nicotine acts on the brain cells to create a feeling of pleasure and alertness. Unfortunately, your body clears away the nicotine in about 30 minutes, leaving you tired, jittery—and craving another cigarette.

    The psychological addiction comes from both habits that are hard to break and the positive feelings some people associate with smoking. For example, if you smoke a cigarette every morning when you first wake up, your brain comes to associate waking up with smoking, and you will automatically crave a cigarette first thing in the morning. This habit is made even stronger by the physical pleasure you feel when nicotine hits your brain. The other part of psychological addiction is the way smoking makes some people feel about themselves: cool, hip, relaxed. Getting through certain social situations without a cigarette can be difficult.
  • Why is having regular teeth cleanings important to maintaining oral health?

  • Having regular teeth cleanings lowers bacteria in the mouth that cause chronic inflammation. It can also help identify any problems that patients may have, such as cavities or gum disease, and encourage better oral hygiene, such as flossing and brushing regularly.
  • What medications are typically used to prevent a first heart attack?

  • A variety of medications exist that can help high risk patients reduce their heart attack risk. Blood thinning medications, such as aspirin, can help make the blood less sticky, lowering risk for a blood clot. Beta blockers can help lower heart rate and blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, can help lower cholesterol and keep the arteries clear. Lifestyle changes are also key, including quitting smoking (if a smoker), maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and managing stress.
  • What lifestyle changes should patients with heart disease make to improve their health?
  • Depending on the severity of heart disease, patients can make numerous lifestyle changes to reduce their risk for cardiac events, including reducing weight, quitting smoking, increasing physical activity and maintaining a heart healthy diet (low-fat, low-sodium). Depending on the severity of heart disease, doctors may also recommend that patients take certain medications or undergo medical procedures or surgery to further improve health and reduce cardiovascular risk.
  • What kind of research is currently underway for pulmonary artery hypertension (PAH)?

  • Several long term studies are currently underway or have been recently completed that look at how PAH medications can be used as individual therapies and in combination for the greatest patient benefits. The ClinicalTrials.gov website, run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), maintains an up-to-date list of clinical trials underway or recently completed. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be interested in taking part in a clinical research study on PAH.
  • What should I do if I experience heart attack symptoms?

  • Call 911 at the first signs of heart attack. Do not delay and do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Calling 911 and taking an ambulance to the hospital will provide you with the most immediate and effective treatment possible for a heart attack, reducing likelihood of long-term damage to the heart and death.
  • What is the difference between physical activity and exercise?
  • Physical activity is any type of movement that causes your muscles to exert energy. Exercise, on the other hand, is a planned and repetitive movement sustained for a prolonged period of time. Both physical activity and exercise get the body moving, helping to burn fat and promote good health.
  • What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce any insulin—a hormone that converts sugar into energy. This type of diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults and cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes, however, occurs when the body resists insulin or does not produce enough insulin, and can be prevented in some patients.
  • What is the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
  • It’s not completely clear. Scientists don’t know whether gum disease actually causes cardiovascular disease. It’s possible that something else is causing both problems. One theory is that bacteria from diseased gums invade the artery wall and cause inflammation to erupt there too. The bacteria may also provoke the body to release several chemicals that cause inflammation in the arteries.
  • What is the risk of developing cardiac arrest during or after a marathon?

  • Based on recent research, risk of cardiac arrest among marathon runners is about 1 in 184,000, with risk of sudden death being much lower (1 in 259,000). In contrast, risk of death among relatively healthy middle-aged joggers is significantly higher (about 1 in 7,620).
  • What is venous thromboembolism and why is it dangerous?

  • Venous thromboembolism occurs when a clot forms in a vein, which can slow or completely block blood flow. The danger is that if these clots form in deep veins (most often in the leg or pelvis), they can break off and travel to the lungs or heart causing a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism can prevent your body from getting the oxygen that it needs, inflicting serious damage on internal organs.
  • When do I need to see a cardiologist?

  • If you have any risk factors for heart disease, you should see a cardiologist. These risk factors include overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Because cardiologists are specifically equipped to help patients manage and reduce their cardiovascular risk, it is important to discuss any concerns regarding your heart health with them.
  • When are women at greatest risk for heart attack during pregnancy?

  • This study shows that risk for heart attack may be elevated anytime during pregnancy, delivery or within 12 weeks after delivery.
  • What vaccines can help prevent HPV?
  • Two types of vaccines — Cervarix and Gardasil — are currently available to help protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Both vaccines are recommended for girls between the ages of 11 and 12, or for females 13–26 years old who did not get the recommended doses earlier. Gardasil remains the only vaccine that helps protect males against HPV. It can be administered to males between the ages 9 and 26.

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