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Helping Your Heart Online Manual

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Risk factors

You can help your heart and your health by managing your risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle.


Making a variety of changes to your everyday routines may be key to feeling your best.

Risk factors are behaviors, habits or conditions that can put your heart at a high risk for problems.

Some of these you cannot control while others you can.

Risks you cannot control

There are three risk factors over which you do not have any control. They are:

  • family history and genetics
  • age (men older than 55 and women older than 60)
  • gender (men develop heart disease earlier than women).

Risks you can control

The three major risk factors are tobacco use, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. People who have diabetes are at a greater risk for heart attacks and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

There are several risk factors you can control:

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High blood pressure

Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure.

Learn more about high blood pressure in our health encyclopedia.

  • Tobacco use: the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. Find out what is in tobacco, why tobacco is addictive, and what it does to your body (including secondhand smoke and the effects of quitting).
  • High blood pressure: known as a "silent" killer because it often has no symptoms.
  • High blood cholesterol: may indicate you have to make changes in your diet. How much cholesterol you have in your body is determined by your: genetics (family history), food choices, weight and activity level.
  • Stress: how you handle it will have an affect on your body and emotional well-being.
  • Lack of exercise: why regular exercise is important.
  • Weight: being overweight makes your heart work harder.
  • Eating habits: what you eat directly affects the health of your heart.
  • Diabetes: adults who have diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than people who do not have diabetes.
  • Alcohol: studies show a link between heavy alcohol use and heart disease.



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts