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Other Major Risk Factors
The following risk factors are largely controllable. Some people think of them as "symptoms" of heart disease, where others may view them as precursors.
Some of these risk factors put you at greater risk of heart disease than others. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of developing heart disease. The good thing is that you can break that chain of progressive disease at any point by working to reduce your controllable risk factors. You should work closely with your doctor to develop a heart-smart plan that is safe and effective for you. These plans usually involve some combination of dietary changes, exercise, medication and weight loss.
High blood pressure (hypertension). Uncontrolled blood pressure can increase the workload of your heart, as well as harden and thicken the arteries, making it harder for blood to pass through. According to the AHA, high blood pressure coupled with other risk factors like obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases the risk of heart attack and stroke several times over. In many cases, high blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medications.
High cholesterol. As cholesterol levels rise, so does your risk for cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol (especially high levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol) can lead to artery blockage and damage, which contributes to heart disease and can lead to a heart attack. If you have high cholesterol along with other risk factors (like high blood pressure or tobacco use), you are at a much higher risk for heart disease. While some people are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol levels, lifestyle changes and medications can help control cholesterol levels.
Type 2 diabetes. People who have type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience heart disease or stroke—even if it is well managed. 65% of people with diabetes die of some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. If poorly managed, the risk is much higher, as uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the heart and veins. Type 2 diabetes is preventable. If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage your condition and reduce any other risk factors you may have.
Mayo Clinic. "Heart Disease Risk Factors," accessed March 2011. www.MayoClinic.com
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. "Heart Disease Risk Factors," accessed March 2011. www.cdc.gov.
Huffington Post. "Is the Apple or Pear-Shaped Body Type More Dangerous?," accessed March 2011. www.huffingtonpost.com.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors," accessed March 2011. www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
WebMD. "Risk Factors for Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com.
Texas Heart Institute. "Heart Disease Risk Factors," accessed March 2011. www.texasheartinstitute.org.
American Heart Association. "Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. www.heart.org.