What Are Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

More than likely, you or someone you love will be affected by heart disease. Learn what risk factors predispose you to heart disease, the number one killer in America.

Sanaz Majd, MD,
Episode #097

What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Heart Disease?

It’s hard to tell who will develop heart disease with 100% certainty. However, doctors do know that certain patients are apt to develop it more than others based on their risk factors. In order to prevent heart disease, it’s important to find out actually helps develop it. So anytime any patient walks in with symptoms of chest pain, these are the risk factors that tend to run through your doctor’s mind when considering the next steps in your evaluation and assessment:

1.  Hypertension: High blood pressure tends to damage the lining of the blood vessels due to the increased friction from the elevated flow. Think of it as a garden hose – if you increase the water pressure enough, it can damage the inner tube lining. The only difference is that the body has a way to patch that up, and it can actually over-patch the damage, causing the vessels to narrow or clog over time. 

2.  Diabetes: Elevated blood sugar can cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels. In addition, those with diabetes also tend to suffer from some of the other heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension and obesity (see below). If you have diabetes, make sure you’ve listened to my previous podcast on the Inane Listicle of 10 Things You've Already Seen Somewhere Else Every Diabetic Should Do in order to decrease your risk factors as much as possible.

3.  Cigarette Smoking: Cigarettes contain toxins that damage the lining of blood vessels. In one study, men who smoked at least 20 cigarettes a day were shown to have a six-times increased risk of suffering from a heart attack and women had a three-times increased risk, compared to those who did not smoke at all. So this is one of the most preventable risk factors for heart disease. If you want to quit and need help, make sure to listen to my prior episode on 8 Tips to Quit Smoking.

4.  Family History: Who does this refer to? No, it does not include your third cousin twice-removed or your spouse. Only if your first-degree relatives, such as parents or siblings, have heart disease, is it considered as a technically major risk factor. And only if those male family members were below age 50 and females less than age 60 when they had their first heart attack. 

5.  Obesity: If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is higher than 25 you have a higher risk of developing heart disease. You can calculate your BMI using this formula: 

Once you find your number, refer to Table 1 below to see whether you are overweight. Or, you can go to the Center for Disease Control’s website for a handy BMI calculator to determine your score: 

Table 1: Body Mass Index


Less than 18.5
18.5 to 24.9
25.0 to 29.9
Greater than or equal to 30.0


Get-Fit-Guy has even more helpful calculators, which you can find here

See also: How to Fight Childhood Obesity

6.  Physical Inactivity: Lack of exercise also predisposes to heart disease. At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as biking or brisk walking, on most days out of the week is recommended in order to prevent heart disease. Check out our Get-Fit Guy’s easy tips on short but effective workouts.

7.  Abnormal Cholesterol: The following cholesterol abnormalities tend to be riskier

  • high total cholesterol

  • high LDL (the “bad” cholesterol)

  • low HDL (the “good” cholesterol)

  • high triglycerides

See also: How to Raise Your Good Cholesterol

Now that you’ve learned the major risk factors for heart disease, the next step is to work with your doctor to improve as many of your risk factors as possible.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Share it with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.


 Stethoscope image from Shutterstock


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD
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