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  • Writer's pictureDr. Raisa Lerner

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

There are several major risk factors for developing diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. They include diabetes, elevated cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, family history of early onset heart disease, and being overweight or having a sedentary lifestyle.

Some risk factors — such as family history — cannot be modified, while other risk factors — like blood pressure or diabetes — can be modified with treatment.

Modifiable Risk Factors


Since the 1940s, it has been known that smoking is linked to heart disease and cancer, and tobacco has since been included on the list of risk factors for a host of diseases that cause death and illness. It damages the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels), increases fatty deposits in the arteries, increases clotting, and more. Women who smoke are at a higher risk of heart attack than men who smoke. Spry can provide you with a smoking cessation program, which includes certain medications and health coaching.

Physical Inactivity

The increasing urbanization and mechanization of the world has reduced our levels of physical activity.  The World Health Organization believes that more than 60% of the global population is not sufficiently active. If you are physically active you will increase your life span.  Physical activity, at any age, protects against a multitude of chronic health problems, including many forms of cardiovascular disease. We at Spry recommend that you engage in a regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, biking, rowing, swimming, resistance training, or even home repairs and yard work 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes, which can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and increase your life expectancy.

Diet and Cholesterol

Diet is one of the key things you can change that will impact all other cardiovascular risk factors. A diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.  It is estimated to cause about 31% of coronary heart disease and 11% of strokes worldwide. A diet low in saturated fats, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, leads to a 73% reduction in the risk of new major cardiac events.

Abnormal levels of lipids (fats) in the blood are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol and Triglyceride are two common types of fat in the body, and if you have heart disease or diabetes you are likely to have high levels of both. High levels of triglyceride, combined with high levels of LDL cholesterol can speed up atherosclerosis, thus increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. We at Spry can provide you with advice on healthy eating habits and help you to get back on track with health coaching.


Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and the single most important risk factor for stroke. Hypertension stresses your body’s blood vessels, causing them to clog or weaken.  Hypertension can lead to atherosclerosis (this is a formation of plugs from lipids, platelets and inflammatory tissue which clogs the arteries) and narrowing of the blood vessels, making them more likely to block from blood clots or bits of fatty material breaking off from the lining of the blood vessel wall. Damage to the arteries can also create weak places that rupture easily or thin spots that balloon out the artery wall, resulting in an aneurism. If you were diagnosed with hypertension it is important that you take medications regularly to keep your blood pressure under control.


If you are overweight you may develop hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis.  These conditions will put you at a high risk for cardiovascular disease. Being overweight can cause fat deposits in your vital organs, such as the liver, which can lead to additional health problems. Weight reduction is an important part of Spry’s overall wellness program.

Uncontrolled Diabetes

If you have diabetes you are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than people without diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes causes damage to your body’s blood vessels, making them more prone to damage from atherosclerosis and hypertension. People with diabetes are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and their prognosis is worse. Make sure to keep your blood sugar under control.

Non-modifiable risk factors

Family history and cardiovascular disease

Your chance of having a stroke is increased if a parent or sibling has had strokes. If a first-degree male relative (e.g. father, brother) has suffered a heart attack before the age of 55, or if your mother or sister has suffered one before the age of 65, you are at greater risk of developing heart disease. If both parents have suffered from heart disease before the age of 55, your risk of developing heart disease can rise to 50% compared to the general population.

Type 2 diabetes also has a genetic component, so if one of your parents developed the condition you are at greater risk of developing it too.  Type 2 diabetes is another risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease.

In the case of stroke, it is believed that inheriting hypertension is a key factor in the familial link of ischemic stroke.


Simply getting older is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease; risk of stroke doubles every decade after age 55.


Men are at greater risk of heart disease than a pre-menopausal woman. But once past menopause, a woman’s risk is similar to a man’s. However, the risk of stroke is the same for both men and women.


Your ethnic origin plays a role in risk for cardiovascular disease. People with African or Asian ancestry are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than other racial groups.

Socioeconomic Status

Being poor, no matter where in the globe, increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. A chronically stressful life, social isolation, anxiety, and depression also increase the risk.

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