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Heart Disease Risk Factors

You can develop heart disease for a variety of reasons. Talk to your doctor about your risk. The main factors for heart disease include:


In general, men are at greater risk for heart attack than women and have attacks earlier in life. But after age 65, the risk is about the same for both men and women.


Your chance of having cardiovascular disease doubles for each decade after you turn 55. More than 80 percent of people who die of a heart attack are over 65.

Family History

Heart disease tends to run in families. Your risk increases if you have an immediate family member with cardiovascular disease. Risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity can also be passed from one generation to another.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the how hard your heart has to work to pump blood into the arteries and through the circulatory system.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases the heart's workload. Blood pressure level of less than 120/80 mmHG is normal. The higher number (systolic) represents the pressure when the heart is beating. The lower number (diastolic) represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.


High cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High levels of cholesterol, a fatty wax-like substance, in the blood increase the amount of plaque that forms on the walls of the arteries.

A total cholesterol level under 200 mg/DL is ideal. The risk of heart attack increases two times with cholesterol level of 240 and four times at a level of 300. The individual ideal level of LDL (bad cholesterol) is lower than 100 mg/dL, and of HDL (good cholesterol, carries extra fat away from the arteries) is higher than 40 mg/dL.


Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Nicotine narrows the blood vessels, causing an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Smoking also leads to the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries and increases the risk of blood clots.


Excess body fat can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, even if you have no other risk factors. Extra weight makes the heart work harder to supply the body with needed oxygen, and it raises cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk for diabetes.


According to the American Heart Association, approximately three-quarters of people with diabetes dies of some form of cardiovascular disease. Diabetics have an abnormal amount of lipoprotein, which speeds plaque build-up. Even if blood sugar levels are under control, diabetes sill increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Activity Level

Physical activity can help strengthen the heart muscle and control blood pressure, diabetes and weight. Regular moderate-to-vigorous activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease.


During stressful situations, the nervous system releases adrenalin, which can raise heart rate and blood pressure, increasing your heart's need for oxygen. This need for oxygen can bring or chest pain in people who already have heart disease.

Increased blood pressure can injure the lining of the arteries. When the arteries heal, the walls may harden or thicken, making is easier for plaque to build up. Stress may also cause people to overeat, start smoking, or smoke more than they normally would.

More Information

To learn more about heart disease risk factors, our cardiologists, or treatment facilities, please use our contact form here. Schedule an appointment with a Memorial Hermann Cardiologist online or by calling (713) 222-2273.