Top Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Heart disease refers to any disorder of the heart. Broadly speaking, a disorder could include any related to the function, as described by Conviva’s Evan Jacobs, M.D.


“Heart disease is sort of an umbrella term commonly used to describe problems with circulation in the heart that can lead to heart attacks. However, the term heart disease can also mean problems with structural elements, such as a leaky heart valve, or electrical disturbances that cause the heart to go out of rhythm.”


Jacobs is a primary care physician who is board certified in several specialties including cardiovascular disease.


During February’s American Heart Month, we’re dedicated to raising awareness about heart health and healthy lifestyles.



Am I at risk?

Certain risk factors like age and family history can’t be controlled; many lifestyle habits, however, can be modified to lower your heart disease risk. Jacobs explains the reasons he believes diabetes to be the leading risk factor, even above smoking.


“It’s not just the elevated sugar levels and inflammation that contribute to risk; it’s the lifestyle that leads to diabetes in the first place. Diabetics are more likely to be obese and to lead a sedentary lifestyle,” he says.


According to the CDC, nearly half of Americans have 1 of 3 of the more serious risk factors defined as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.


General Risk Factors


High LDL (low-density lipoprotein)

Too much LDL or “bad cholesterol” in the arteries may lead to plaque buildup and cause narrowing of the arteries.



Referred to as “good” cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein helps remove the bad cholesterol from arteries.



Increased sugar levels over time can damage the nerves and vessels leading to the heart. 


The chemicals in cigarettes damage cells. It also causes blood to thicken and increases chances of blood clots or plaque which narrows the arteries.


Female, post-menopausal

Through menopause, hormones, especially estrogen, cause many changes in a woman’s body. One effect is blood vessels become less elastic and stiffer.


Obesity – Carrying extra weight adds stress to the body in general. Specifically, it leads to high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.



How to Improve Heart Health

If you think you’re at high risk for heart disease, it’s never too late to change habits and lower your risk. You can start by scheduling a check-up with your primary care doctor to determine your specific health profile. A wellness exam can determine your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and diabetes risk.


Setting goals can help change habits. Short-term goals may include finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, even if it’s just a short walk. Long-term goals may focus on quitting smoking or lowering cholesterol. Jacobs notes that diet is one risk factor that can be controlled.


“A heart healthy diet doesn’t only affect sugar levels and cholesterol. It also lowers inflammation which is an important factor in controlling risk of heart attack and stroke,” says Jacobs.


February’s Heart Health Month offers an ideal time to find inspiration and learn more about healthy heart habits.



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