Heart Disease Risk Factors
Unhealthy Diet and Heart Disease
An unhealthy diet can raise your risk for heart disease. For example, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol raise LDL cholesterol. Thus, you should try to limit these foods.
Saturated fats are found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fats are found in some fried and processed foods. Cholesterol is found in eggs, many meats, dairy products, commercial baked goods, and certain types of shellfish.
It's also important to limit foods that are high in sodium (salt) and added sugars. A high-salt diet can raise your risk for high blood pressure.
Added sugars will give you extra calories without nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This can cause you to gain weight, which raises your risk for heart disease. Added sugars are found in many desserts, canned fruits packed in syrup, fruit drinks, and non diet sodas.
You also should try to limit how much alcohol you drink. Too much alcohol will raise your blood pressure. It also will add calories, which can cause weight gain.
Stress and Heart Disease
Stress and anxiety may contribute to the development of heart disease. Stress and anxiety also can trigger your arteries to tighten. This can raise your blood pressure and your risk for heart attack.
The most commonly reported trigger for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, especially one involving anger. Stress also may indirectly raise your risk for heart disease if it makes you more likely to smoke or overeat foods high in fat and sugar.
Age and Heart Disease
As you get older, your risk for heart disease and heart attack rises. This is in part due to the slow buildup of plaque inside your heart arteries, which can start during childhood.
In men, the risk for heart disease increases after age 45. In women, the risk increases after age 55.
Most people have some plaque buildup in their heart arteries by the time they're in their seventies. However, only about 25 percent of those people have chest pain, heart attacks, or other signs of heart disease.
Gender and Heart Disease
Before age 55, women have a lower risk for heart disease than men. After age 55, however, the risk for heart disease increases similarly in both women and men. This is because before menopause, estrogen provides some protection against heart disease for women.
Some risk factors may affect heart disease risk differently in women than in men. For example, diabetes raises the risk for heart disease more in women.
Family History and Heart Disease
Family history plays a role in heart disease risk. Your risk increases if your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or sister was diagnosed with the disease before 65 years of age.
However, having a family history of heart disease doesn't mean that you will have it too. This is especially true if your affected family member smoked or had other heart disease risk factors that were not well treated.
Making lifestyle changes and taking medicines to treat other risk factors often can lessen genetic influences and stop or slow the progress of heart disease.