What is a risk factor?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. When it comes to heart disease, there are many health and lifestyle factors that can influence your risk. Some risk factors are modifiable - you can change them - while others are beyond your control.
Risk factors you cannot change:
Family history of early heart disease. If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother or sister had one before age 65, you are more likely to get heart disease yourself.
Age (55 or older for women). After menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops. Women who have gone through early menopause, either naturally or because they have had a hysterectomy, are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women of the same age who have not yet gone through menopause. Another reason for the increasing risk is that middle age is a time when women tend to develop other risk factors for heart disease.
Race/ethnicity. African American, Hispanic and Native American women are all at greater risk of heart disease than white women and are also more likely to have contributing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity. While certain risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to realize that you do have control over many others.
Regardless of your age, background, or health status, you can lower your risk of heart disease—and it doesn't have to be complicated.
Important risk factors for heart disease that you can modify:
• High blood pressure
• High blood cholesterol
• Being overweight
• Being physically inactive
Some women believe that making just one healthy change will take care of all of their heart disease risk. To protect your heart, it is vital to make changes that address each risk factor you have -- each has the individual potential to greatly increase a woman's chance of developing heart disease. You can make the changes gradually, one at a time. But making them is very important. The take-away message? Be aware of your risk factors and take them seriously. The actions you take now to lower your risk may just save your life.
Source: The Heart Truth Campaign. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The National Institutes of Health.