There are many risk factors associated with heart diseases and stroke. You will not necessarily develop these diseases if you have a risk factor, but the more risk factors you have, the greater the likelihood that you will.

Therefore, it is critical that you know of your risk factors and take actions to modify them and work to prevent them compromising your health.

What are the risk factors for heart diseases and stroke?

There are the controllable factors and the uncontrollable factors. The uncontrollable factors are factors that are inborn and cannot be changed. They are:

  • Age – People who are 55 years have two times the risk of developing heart diseases and stroke as they age
  • Gender – Men are at higher risk than pre-menopausal women. Post-menopausal women have the same risk as men.
  • Ethnicity – African and Asian ancestry have higher risk than other ethnic groups.

The controllable factors are mainly lifestyle related and they can be modified.

1) High blood pressure

High blood pressure is the single highest risk factor contribution to heart diseases and stroke. When the systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure is 90 mmHg, it is classified as high blood pressure. High blood pressure stresses the blood vessels making them more likely to clot and weaken leading to narrowing of blood vessels and blockage.

2) Lipid level

Lipids are fats in the blood. High level of lipids cause build up plaque, which leads to deposits, narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels. The major lipids are:

  • LDL (bad cholesterol) – This is the main source that clogs up artery. Level greater than 160 mg/dL is high risk.
  • HDL (good cholesterol) – HDL clears cholesterol away from the blood. Level lower than 60 mg/dL increase the risk.
  • Triglyceride – This is blood fat from diet. Level higher than 150 mg/dL is high risk.
  • Total cholesterol – Total blood fats measure higher than 200 mg/dL is high risk.

3) Diabetes

Type 2  diabetes is a major risk factor for developing heart disease and stroke. Having diabetes alone increase the risk by double compared to one who does not have diabetes. Diabetes is defined as fasting blood sugar should be higher than 100mg/dL or HbA1c higher than 7.5%.

4) Obesity

People who are obese for more than 20 years have a high risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Coronary calcification is an indicator for risk of heart disease.

A research reported in the Journal of American Medical Association showed a study done on 3275 white and black adults of 18-30 years old. Over a period of 10 years, the BMI and abdominal circumference measurement plus a scan of the heart for coronary calcification were tracked. None of the participants who started were obese. Over the period, 40.4% became obese and 27.5% develop coronary calcification.

The rate of coronary calcification increases with longer obesity more than 20 years. This is great implication for obese children.

5) Smoking and alcohol

Smoking actively or passively increases the risk by 2-4 times. The nicotine in cigarettes cause blood clot, increase blood pressure and damages the blood vessels.

Having 1-2 drink a day, especially red wine may reduce the risk by 30%. But increase beyond this level increase the risk as it increase the triglyceride level in the blood leading to plaque formation.

6) Sedentary lifestyle and bad diet

Physical inactivity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The risk for men is 52% and women 28%. A diet in saturated fat over time is linked to cause 31% of heart disease and 11% of stroke.

7) Medicine

Some medicines that you take for other conditions can increase the risk of heart diseases. Studies have been published on various classes of medicines such as immunodilating drugs, drugs to control blood pressure, anti-diabetic drugs, anti-migraine drugs, anti-cancer drugs and in particular, a growing and wide-spread use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID).

Knowing the risk factors is the first step to managing heart disease and stroke. In my next post, I will discuss the ways you can take to prevent the controllable risk factors.

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