UAB Medicine News


Three Risks for Heart Disease

You have tremendous power to lower your risk for heart disease.  By living a heart-healthy lifestyle and keeping close tabs on important aspects of your health – like your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and weight – you can greatly reduce the chances that heart disease will ever be a part of your future.

Still, there are three major risk factors for heart disease that can’t be changed – that’s because they’re part of a person’s own unique identity. 

And while these risk factors won’t budge, it’s important to know which of these apply to you.  Then, you can be aware of any changes in your health that may signal the beginning of heart disease – and you can also work harder to manage the risk factors you can control.

Risk Factors Set in Stone

  • Older Age – As the number of candles on your birthday cake climbs, so does your risk for heart disease.  
  • Gender – Men have a higher risk of heart attacks than women – and they typically have them earlier in life.  Also, men have a greater risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Heredity -  Did you know that a family history of heart disease could put you at higher risk?  For example, if your parents have heart disease, you’re more likely to develop it yourself.  You should also pay attention to the age your relatives were diagnosed with heart disease.  If you have men in your family who had heart disease at age 55 or younger – or women who were diagnosed at age 65 or younger – you may be at greater risk. 

Your Role in Influencing the 3 Unchangeable Risk Factors
The good news is that by managing the heart disease risks you can control, you’ll have a positive influence on the risk factors that can’t be changed.  “While it’s true that we can’t change age, gender, and heredity, there are other risk factors we can control.  In doing so, we can influence and manage the unchangeable risk factors in a positive way,” explains UAB cardiologist Vera Bittner, MD.

“For example, a family may have a history of very early heart disease because all family members have high cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Bittner.  “We can’t change the fact that the family members inherit abnormally high cholesterol levels, but we can treat them.”

Dr. Bittner adds that in a similar way, the tendency to inherit diabetes – a major risk factor for heart disease – can also be influenced through lifestyle measures.  “A person with a family history of diabetes can decrease his or her risk of becoming diabetic by exercising regularly and carefully watching diet and weight,” Dr. Bittner explains.  “And, if an individual does become diabetic, he or she can decrease the risk of heart disease by treating the diabetes and all associated risk factors.”          

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