Your heart is a finely tuned instrument, but many things can go wrong inside and around it. Heart disease can involve your heart’s arteries, the valves between your heart’s chambers, your heart’s electrical system, or the strength of your heart muscle. A genetic predisposition for heart disease, other medical conditions, and your lifestyle choices can put your heart in danger.
About 70% of heart disease in the United States is related to obesity (Source: Get America Fit Foundation). Being obese makes your heart work too hard and causes metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. These conditions make many types of heart disease more likely, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.
Living a sedentary lifestyle increases your likelihood of developing coronary heart disease and having a heart attack. It also contributes to certain risks for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Diet plays a big role in heart disease and its risk factors. A diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol increases your risk of coronary heart disease, angina, and heart attack. A diet that includes a lot of sugar and processed carbohydrates can contribute to type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Similarly, eating a diet high in sodium can raise your blood pressure.
Chronic stress is linked to heart disease because it increases your blood pressure and heart rate and can damage your arteries.
Some chronic diseases increase your risk of heart disease. For example, diabetes damages your heart’s arteries, which increases the risk and severity of coronary heart disease and heart attack. The damage is worse when diabetes is not controlled, but even well-treated diabetes increases your risk.
High blood pressure, valve disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and diabetes can strain your heart and cause heart damage and heart failure. What’s more, high blood pressure and high cholesterol boosts the chances and seriousness of coronary heart disease, angina and heart attack.
Uncontrolled hyperthyroidism can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and certain blood clotting disorders can lead to a heart attack.
Using cocaine or methamphetamine, or abusing certain prescription or diet drugs, can lead to serious heart problems. These include cardiomyopathy, heart attack, and life-threatening heart arrhythmias.
Drinking too much alcohol can also be a danger. Chronic overindulgence increases your triglycerides and can lead to high blood pressure, which both increase your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. It also raises your risk of cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and heart arrhythmias.
Genetics and Family History
If a parent or other close relative has coronary heart disease, you are more likely to have it yourself. Recent research is providing insight into the genetic links to heart disease. Certain gene variations can cause heart disease or make it more likely. Sometimes, the risk is higher only if the gene is combined with other risks, such as smoking. At this point, genetic testing for heart disease is experimental and is not used for routine screening. If you don’t know your family history regarding heart disease, find out about it if possible.
Smoking is the most important risk factor for heart disease in people younger than 50. Smoking one pack of cigarettes a day more than doubles your risk of a heart attack. Smoking increases blood pressure and makes your blood more likely to clot, which can cause a heart attack. And smoking while taking birth control pills greatly increases your chances of coronary heart disease.
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease includes many types of heart defects that form during pregnancy. Certain risk factors during pregnancy may cause or contribute to congenital heart disease. These include diabetes, obesity, alcohol use, exposure to chemicals, rubella (German measles), and use of the acne drug isotretinoin (Accutane). Not getting enough folic acid during pregnancy may increase your baby’s risk of a congenital heart disease.
Gender, Age and Race
Advancing age is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and heart failure. About 82% of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older (Source: AHA). And men are more likely than women to have a heart attack. If you are an African American, Native American, Asian American, or Mexican American, you have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of heart disease. However, it’s also important to realize that you can develop heart disease with no risk factors at all. If you’re concerned about your risk of heart disease, contact your doctor for a full medical evaluation.