Heart Disease and Stroke: Understanding Risk Factors and Prevention

According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease (heart disease) is the leading cause of death in the US. Heart disease is a term that refers to numerous conditions, including coronary artery disease and stroke.

By knowing your risk factors and taking charge of your health, it’s possible to lower your risk of or even prevent heart disease. 

What are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Stroke?

Many factors can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease. Some risk factors can be changed, while others can not.  

Some risk factors for heart disease that cannot be changed include:

  • Age: The risk of developing heart disease increases with age. Adults aged 65 years and older have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared to younger people. 
  • Family health history: People who have a close family member (a parent or a sibling) who has been diagnosed with heart disease have a higher risk of developing heart disease.
  • Ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of developing heart disease than others. For example, African Americans are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke, compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians. 
  • Sex: Heart disease is more common in women than men.

Risk factors that can be prevented or even reversed to help lower one’s risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke include:

  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • High levels of LDL (“bad”) Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity

How to Improve Heart Health and Prevent Stroke

Many individuals can lower their risk of, or even prevent, heart disease and stroke by taking certain actions.

Manage Chronic Health Conditions

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic health condition known to be a high-risk factor for heart disease, like diabetes and hypertension, it’s important to follow your treatment plan exactly as instructed by your doctor. The longer that a person has diabetes or hypertension without proper treatment, the higher their risk is of developing heart disease. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing chronic conditions that are associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease, including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. One important action that can help someone maintain a healthy weight is to eat a healthy diet. Consider working with a dietitian to learn what foods are heart-healthy and how to create healthy meal plans.

Get Regular Exercise

Exercise is scientifically proven to protect against heart disease because it:

  • Strengthens the heart 
  • Improves circulation 
  • Lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps with weight loss

The American Heart Association recommends that adults 18 years and older get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise are riding a bike and hiking.

Don’t Smoke

Smoking tobacco and second-hand smoke are directly related to heart disease. Smoking damages the blood vessels and the heart and leads to the buildup of plaque in the arteries (a condition called atherosclerosis). When the arteries become narrowed due to plaque buildup, they are no longer able to transport the same amount of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to the organs. 

The best way to prevent smoking-related heart disease is to never smoke. People who do smoke can reverse smoke-related damage by quitting.  

Get Proactive

If you have one or more risk factors for heart disease, start making healthy changes to your daily life today. If you’re not sure where to start, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss heart-health strategies. 



https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds) https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging#:~:text=Adults%20age%2065%20and%20older,risk%20of%20developing%20cardiovascular%20disease.