Heart disease may be inherited, but often it’s the result of lifestyle. Changing eating, exercise and smoking habits can play a significant part in prevention.
The following risk factors can cause heart disease. While there are some you can do little or nothing about, there are others that are worth addressing to make sure you keep a healthy heart:
Four out of five people who die from coronary heart disease are aged 65 or older.
Men are more at risk of heart disease than women and have heart attacks earlier in life. However, death rates from heart disease and stroke for women are twice as high as those for all forms of cancer.
The risk for women increases as they approach menopause and continues to rise as they get older, possibly because of the loss of oestrogen, the natural hormone.
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to suffer from the disease themselves. Some races, such as Afro-Caribbeans, are more prone to coronary heart disease and stroke than others.
Smokers are twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as non-smokers and are more likely to die as a result. Smoking is also linked to increased risk of stroke.
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke damages the cardiovascular system. Passive smoking may also be a danger.
Women who smoke and take the oral contraceptive pill are at high risk of heart disease and stroke.
Drinking an average of more than one drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men increases the risk of heart disease and stroke because of the effect on blood pressure, weight and levels of triglycerides, a type of fat carried in the blood.
Binge drinking is particularly dangerous.
The use of certain drugs, particularly cocaine and those taken intravenously, has been linked to heart disease and stroke.
Cocaine can cause abnormal heartbeat, which can be fatal, while heroin and opiates can cause lung failure. Injecting drugs can cause an infection of the heart or blood vessels.
The higher the blood cholesterol level, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease, particularly if it’s combined with any of the other risk factors.
Diet is one cause of high cholesterol; others are age, gender and family history.
High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing it to enlarge and weaken over time. When combined with obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes, the risk increases several times.
High blood pressure can be a problem in women who are pregnant or are taking high-dose types of oral contraceptive pill.
Failure to exercise is a cause of coronary heart disease as physical activity helps control cholesterol levels, diabetes and, in some cases, can help lower blood pressure.
People who are overweight are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, even if they have none of the other risk factors. Excess weight causes extra strain on the heart, influences blood pressure, cholesterol and levels of other blood fats – including triglycerides – and increases the risk of developing diabetes.
The condition seriously increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, even if glucose levels are under control. More than 80 per cent of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
Previous medical history
People who have had a previous heart attack or stroke are more likely than others to suffer further events.
Some links have been made between stress and coronary artery disease. This could be because it encourages people to eat more, start smoking or smoke more than they would otherwise have done.
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