Risk Factors - Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke

American Heart Association scientific position

Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. Major risk factors are those that medical research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. Contributing risk factors are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their significance and prevalence havenít yet been precisely determined.

The American Heart Association has identified several risk factors for coronary heart disease. Some of them can be modified, treated or controlled, and some canít. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that he or she will develop heart disease. Also, the greater the level of each risk factor, the greater the risk. For example, a person with a total cholesterol of 300 mg/dL has a greater risk than someone with a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL, even though all people with a total cholesterol of 240 or higher are considered high risk.


What are the major uncontrollable risk factors for coronary heart disease?

Increasing age ó More than four out of five people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men to die from them within a few weeks.

Male sex (gender) ó Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when womenís death rate from heart disease increases, it's not as great as menís.

Heredity (including Race) ó Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than whites and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can't control your age, sex and race, you can't control your family history. That makes it even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.

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