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Risk factors

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart disease) are factors which increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

There are a number of risk factors. Some you can influence yourself, others you cannot. The major risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Being overweight
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Alcohol
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history

Smoking

Smoking is bad for your heart and blood vessels. The carbon monoxide in smoke reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart. The nicotine damages the lining of your blood vessels, making them hard. That makes it easier for cholesterol and fat to block up your blood vessels. As a result, your blood vessels become narrower and your risk of developing heart disease increases.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure can cause damage to the lining of your blood vessels. This makes it easier for cholesterol and fat to build up in the lining of these blood vessels, narrowing them and increasing your risk of developing heart disease.

Diabetes

High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the lining of your blood vessels. That makes it easier for cholesterol and fat to build up in the lining of your blood vessels, narrowing the blood vessels. This is called arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Unhealthy eating habits

The more saturated fat and trans fat in your food, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fat is unsaturated fat that is even more damaging to your health than saturated fat. It increases your ‘bad’ cholesterol, enabling layers of fat to build up in the lining of your blood vessels. As a result, your blood vessels clog up and your risk of developing heart disease increases.

Being overweight

Being overweight can lead to a number of health problems, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Higher cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure

Diabetes, higher cholesterol levels and high blood pressure can cause damage to the lining of your blood vessels. This makes it easier for cholesterol and fat to build up in the lining of these blood vessels, narrowing them and increasing your risk of developing heart disease.

High cholesterol levels

As cholesterol travels through your body, the ‘bad’ cholesterol becomes embedded in the lining of your blood vessels. As a result, your blood vessels can clog up and your risk of developing heart disease increases. ‘Bad’ cholesterol is caused by eating food high in saturated fats and trans fat. Trans fat is unsaturated fat that is even more damaging to your health than saturated fat.

Alcohol

The risk of alcohol damaging your health depends on the total amount you drink and your drinking pattern. By drinking pattern, we mean the amount of alcohol a person drinks in a week and how often. Some research has revealed that a small, regular amount of alcohol can have a positive effect on health. This does not detract from the fact that alcohol has a harmful effect on the heart muscle:

  • Alcohol slows down the electrical signals in your heart, making the contractions of the heart muscle less efficient.
  • Alcohol has a poisonous effect on proteins which are important for your heart’s pumping function.

Furthermore, alcohol can do the following:

  • Increase your blood pressure
  • Increase the adrenaline in your blood. This is one of the causes of cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).

Age

The risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases as we get older. The older we get, the more important it is to avoid the risk factors we have some influence over. Having healthy eating habits, maintaining a healthy weight, taking enough exercise and not smoking play an important role in this.

Gender

There are differences between men and women when it comes to cardiovascular disease. Men have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease when they are relatively young, while women are affected later in life, often after the menopause.

Family history

If members of your immediate family, such as parents, brothers and/or sisters, have developed cardiovascular disease before the age of 60, you will also have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Risk factors reinforce each other. Because of this, you have an even greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.