Heart Health: Risk Factors

While looking for the most common risk factors of heart disease, I found a few sites that had good lists of risk factors. I wanted to have a complete list, so I’ve listed the ones I found and split them up into 2 categories.

Basically, there are risk factors that we have no (or little) control over and then there are those that we do have control over.

The ones you can control are where you want to put your focus.

Risk Factors We Cannot Control/Have Trouble Controlling –

  • Age: As women grow older, their risk of heart disease and stroke begins to rise and keeps rising with age.
  • Sex: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Each year about 60,000 more women than men have strokes, and about 60 percent of total stroke deaths occur in women. Heart disease is now the #1 killer of women in the United States.
  • Mental stress/depression: Research hasn’t yet defined the role stress plays in the development of heart disease. People respond differently to situations they find stressful. Unhealthy responses to stress may lead to other risk behaviors like smoking and overeating. Depression is twice as common in women as in men, and it increases the risk of heart disease by two to three times compared with those who aren’t depressed. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest in your daily activities, feeling hopeless or unexplained changes in your weight. While depression can be treated, there are many outside influences that contribute to depression that are out of our control.
  • Heredity: Both women and men are more likely to develop heart disease or stroke if their close blood relatives have had them. Race is also a factor. Black women have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke than white women. Compared with whites, African-American men and women are more likely to die of stroke.
  • Previous heart attack or stroke: Women who’ve had a heart attack are at higher risk of having a second heart attack; 43 percent of women ages 40 and older who survive a first heart attack will have another heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease within five years, and 22 percent who survive a first stroke will have another within five years. A transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”) also is a risk factor and predictor of stroke.
  • Diabetes: Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are two to four times those of adults without diabetes. People with diabetes often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and are overweight, increasing their risk even more. *Obviously, the type of diabetes is key to this one.

Risk Factors We Can Control –

  • Diet: Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Eat more nutrient-rich foods and less nutrient-poor foods – this means lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats.
  • Smoking: Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular heart disease among women. Women who smoke have an increased risk for ischemic stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Constant exposure to others’ tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke) at work or at home also increases the risk, even for nonsmokers. Women smokers who use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke than nonsmokers who use them.
  • High cholesterol: High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and also increases the risk of stroke. Studies show that women’s cholesterol is higher than men’s from age 55 on. High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) raise the risk of heart disease and heart attack. High levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lower the risk of heart disease. Research has shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol seem to be a stronger risk factor for women than for men.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and the most important risk factor for stroke. Women have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if they are obese, have a family history of high blood pressure, are pregnant, take certain types of birth control pills or have reached menopause. African-American women have higher average blood pressure levels compared to Caucasian women.
  • High triglycerides: Triglyceride is a common type of fat in the body. A high triglyceride level often goes with higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL, lower levels of HDL and increased risk of diabetes. But scientists don’t agree that it’s a risk factor for heart disease by itself. Research suggests that having high triglycerides may increase the risk for women more than for men.
  • Activity: Various studies have shown that lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease and indirectly increases the risk of stroke. Overall, they found that heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in inactive people than in those who are more active. When you’re inactive and eat too much, you can gain excess weight. In many people overweight can lead to high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends accumulating at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.
  • Weight / Metabolic Syndrome: If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is located in your waist area — you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Excessive alcohol intake: The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women per day) is lower than in nondrinkers. However, it’s not recommended that nondrinkers start using alcohol or increase the amount they drink. Excessive drinking and binge drinking can contribute to obesity, high triglycerides, cancer and other diseases, raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke.

I won’t be going into each one in detail over the next few installments, but I will be going over most of the ones that we are able to control.

I know I can’t do anything to change my family history of heart disease, but I can do everything else in my power to have a healthy heart.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Go Red Heart CheckUp! You need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers to take this – if you don’t know them now, get them soon! It’s important to know your numbers and keep track of them even if you don’t have a family history of heart disease.

Get ready for a Heart Healthy breakfast tomorrow – I am super excited about it  :)

Oh, and a shout out to my family, if they’re reading!  I love you  :)  Hi to Melissa in NY?!?  How did I not get invited?  :)

See ya for dinner!


  1. This was such a great post! I was diagnosed with high cholesterol (it runs in my family) and have finally brought it down to a normal range. I did not know any of this info until I started working on it!
    I’m just starting my blog and really enjoy reading yours. Thanks again!

  2. You are sooo sweet! Thanks for the comment on my post!

    This was a great post too; very well-written.

  3. Heart healthy breakfast? I’m intrigued!

  4. thanks for all the info!! i really appreciate all the time/research you’re putting into this series. it’s so important to spread awareness, esp about the things we can control.

  5. Wonderful information again!!

  6. Awesome post, Brandi. I have so many of the risk factors and am trying my best to control the ones that I can.

  7. Oh wow, I’m really appreciating these posts. Keep them coming!

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