There's more to staying healthy than eating right and exercising regularly. Keeping your body in the healthiest condition possible also requires being aware of the potential onset of various diseases and medical conditions. The best way to keep one step ahead is by understanding risk factors, and learning which factors you may unknowingly have. Having a firm knowledge of your family's medical history can go a long way toward avoiding your own potential health problems, since many medical conditions run in families.

Of the many diseases you should keep an eye out for, cardiovascular disease (CVD) may be the most important. Currently, CVD is the leading cause of death in the United States and currently affects more than 81.1 million Americans. CVD, though seemingly one disease, is actually a collection of several cardiovascular-related conditions, such as high-blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke.

Risk factors for CVD can be broken down into two categories - those that are unavoidable and some that may be controllable or modifiable.

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Tobacco use. Through smoking tobacco products, you may be as much as four times more likely to develop CVD.
  • High-blood pressure. Approximately 73.6 million Americans suffer from this, and it accounts for more than 90 percent of CVD incidences.
  • High-blood cholesterol. When your cholesterol level reaches 240, you are said to be at high risk of CVD.
  • Physical inactivity. Failing to be regularly active, even at a moderate level, can increase your chances of coronary heart disease.
  • Obesity. With excess weight, the heart is forced to work harder. Obesity often increases the likelihood of developing high-blood pressure, high-blood cholesterol or diabetes.
  • Diabetes mellitus. Nearly 75 percent of people with diabetes die from a heart or blood vessel condition.
  • Stress. Though individually linked to CVD, stress can also lead to the development of other risk factors, like high-blood pressure.
  • Alcohol abuse. Consequences from drinking too heavily include raised blood pressure and increased likelihood of heart failure or stroke.


Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • Increasing age. Of the 813,804 Americans who died from CVD in 2007, over 150,000 were 65 or older.
  • Male gender. Men are more likely to have heart attacks and have them early in life than women.
  • Hereditary. CVD often can be a hereditary disease.
  • Ethnicity. Though no ethnicity is safe from CVD, African Americans have shown the greatest likelihood of developing the disease.


The more risk factors you have and the greater the severity of any one risk factor can greatly increase your chances of developing CVD. However, because so many risk factors are modifiable, there are many ways to help reduce your risk.