Risk Factors

Did you know?

  • Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States.
  • 1 in 4 women in the United States dies of heart disease while 1 in 30 dies of breast cancer.
  • Once a woman reaches menopause, her risk of heart disease and heart attack increase dramatically.
  • 1 in 8 women between the ages of 45 and 64 have some form of heart disease.
  • 1 in 4 women over the age of 65 has some form of heart disease.
  • For African American women, the risk of heart disease is especially great. These women develop high blood pressure earlier in life and have higher blood pressure compared with white women.

How can you tell if you are at risk?

Many different risk factors (medical conditions or lifestyle habits) can affect your chance of developing heart disease. It is important to understand which risk factors affect you and what actions you can take to lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Risk Factors you CAN’T control:

Increasing age

  • – For men: are you over 45?
  • – For women: are you post menopausal or over age 55?

Family history

  • – Does anyone in your immediate family have a history of heart disease or diabetes?

Risk Factors you CAN control:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • – Is your blood pressure 140/90 mmHg or higher? (optimal is below 120/80 mmHg)
  • High cholesterol
  • – Is your total cholesterol over 200?
  • Obesity
  • – Are you 30 pounds or more over your recommended weight?
  • – For men: is your waist measurement greater than 40 inches?
  • – For women: is your waist measurement greater than 35 inches?
  • Inactivity
  • – Do you exercise less than three times a week?

If you answer “yes” to any of the risk factor questions, below is estimated level of risk. For each risk factor you checked “yes” to, your overall risk of developing heart disease increases. The risk factors don’t add their potential danger like one plus one equals two – they multiply it.

For instance, if you have three risk factors you are 10 times more likely to develop heart disease than a person with no risk factors.

For the risk factors you can control, it’s important you take action to minimize your risks. If you have some in the “can’t control” category, then it’s even more important that you take action on the risks you can control to help reduce your overall risk for heart disease.

Here are some tips to get started.

  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • – People who smoke are up to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smokers.
  • Aim for healthy weight.
  • – If you don’t know your ideal weight, ask your health care provider. The more overweight you are, the higher your risk for heart disease.
  • Get moving.
  • – Make a commitment to be more physically active. Every day, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as taking a brisk walk, raking, dancing, house cleaning, or gardening.
  • Eat for heart health.
  • – Choose a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Be sure to include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Know your numbers.
  • – Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides), and blood glucose. Work with your doctor to improve any numbers that are not normal.


American Heart Association, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2009 Update.

American Heart Association. “You’re the Cure: Women and Cardiovascular Disease Facts.”

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Infographs, “Heart Disease Risk Factor “Multiplier Effect:” in Midlife Women.”

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “The Heart Truth for Women – A Speaker’s Guide.” NIH Publication No. 06-5208

American Heart Association, “Heart Attack Symptoms and Warning Signs”

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The Heart Truth from Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel.