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Risk Factors

Do you know your risk for heart disease? Learn what increases our cardiovascular risk and how we can reduce or control risk factors that we may have.

  • What is cognitive impairment?

  • Cognitive impairment is reduced brain function associated with problems around memory, language, thinking and judgment. This condition often comes with old age, but can also occur as a result of cardiovascular risk factors or stroke.
  • What is a healthy blood pressure?

  • For adults, a healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure is considered elevated between 120–139 mmHg systolic (top number) or between 80–89 mmHg diastolic. Chronic high blood pressure, known as hypertension, occurs when systolic blood pressure is more than 140 mmHg or the diastolic systolic blood pressure is more than 90 mmHg.
  • What is a "healthy" amount of TV viewing?

  • Based on study findings, Americans should limit their TV viewing to less than 2 hours each day. However, a “healthy” amount of TV viewing may vary depending on the health of the viewer. For example, if you watch more than 2 hours of TV each day but exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet and weight, you will likely have less risk for conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes than those with a less healthy lifestyle.
  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • What is a biomarker?

  • Biomarkers found in the blood or tissue may be used to indicate a normal or abnormal process, a condition or disease, or how the body is reacting to treatment.
  • What is a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP)?
  • C-reactive protein is a type of protein that the liver makes in response to inflammation in the body. Because inflammation is linked with heart disease, doctors often use a simple blood test called a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test to better assess an individual’s heart health.
  • What is "sick fat"?

  • Adiposopathy, also known as "sick fat", is a type of fat tissue that is now considered a form of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, overweight patients without any major risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, are still considered to have heart disease if they have “sick fat.”

  • What is psoriasis?

  • Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease causing skin redness and irritation. This condition occurs when skin cells rise to the skin’s surface too quickly, causing the build-up of dead skin cells.
  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • What is leptin?

  • Leptin is a type of hormone that helps regulate energy, metabolism and appetite. Research has shown that some people may be resistant to leptin, and their bodies fail to respond to the hormone correctly. This may cause them to have an increased appetite, store more fat than others and gain weight.
  • What are the most common complications of PCI?
  • The most common complication from PCI is blood clotting, despite efforts to reduce this risk through the use of blood-thinning medications. Risk of heart attack is about 1–2% in patients undergoing PCI. Although most PCI procedures are successful, about 1–2% of procedures may fail and require emergency coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
  • What are the most common heart attack symptoms in women?

  • The most common symptoms of heart attack in women include discomfort or pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach; nausea or vomiting; trouble breathing; breaking out in a cold sweat; dizziness or lightheadedness; inability to sleep; unusual fatigue and clammy skin. However, women may experience all, none, many or just a few of these heart attack symptoms.

    Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

  • What are the most common risks associated with drug-eluting stents?

  • Although drug-eluting stents are generally safe and effective, the most common complications include blood clotting around the stent and re-narrowing of the arteries, called restenosis.
  • What are the most common complications associated with cardiomyopathies during pregnancy, labor and delivery?
  • Patients with cardiomyopathies are at increased risk for heart failure, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death from pregnancy to delivery. Risk can vary greatly, however, based on the type and severity of cardiomyopathy in a patient.
  • What are the signs of peripartum cardiomyopathy during pregnancy?

  • Although this condition is rare, it does occur in about 1 in 3,200 women. Those with peripartum cardiomyopathy will present similar symptoms as for heart failure, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and abdominal pain. Patients presenting these symptoms should talk with their doctor, as this condition can be easily diagnosed in patients.

  • What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?
  • Symptoms of congenital heart disease depend on the specific condition, with some symptoms presenting early in life, while others may have no symptoms for years.
  • What are the risk factors for heart attack and stroke?

  • Heart attack and stroke share many of the same risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight or obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, and physical inactivity. Risk for both also increases with age.
  • What are significant differences in the cardiovascular health of women vs. men?

  • While additional research is needed further understand the cardiovascular differences between men and women, one significant variation is among heart attack symptoms. For men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or pressure in the chest. Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to have unusual or "atypical" signs of a heart attack, and some of these symptoms may come and go. The danger is that many women are unaware of these differences in symptoms, and will often disregard a heart attack for fatigue or the flu. There are additional recognized differences between men and women, including the time at which the disease sets in, severity of shared risk factors and the presence of unique risk factors associated with hormonal changes and pregnancy.
  • What are risk factors for heart failure?

  • Major risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, irregular heartbeats, diabetes, congenital heart defects, kidney conditions and excessive alcohol use.
  • What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in a few food sources such as fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also added to some food products like milk and some yogurts, juices and cereals. The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency, however, is to get enough regular exposure to the sun and to take supplements when necessary.
  • What are my risks for heart failure?

  • Heart failure is a serious but all too common condition. It affects about 5.7 million people in the United States and causes 300,000 deaths each year. Heart failure is more prevalent in young men, African Americans, and people over age 65, particularly women. Hereditary factors and congenital heart defects can also raise your risk.

    Heart failure develops when the heart muscle is damaged or overworked. Some of the primary contributors to heart failure include:
    • Obesity
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Heart attack
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • Alcohol
  • What are the best low-impact exercises that achieve cardiovascular benefits?

  • Some of the best low-impact exercises include stretching, swimming, rowing, weight training, yoga and walking. But before incorporating a new exercise into your daily routine, always check with your health care provider to make sure that you understand the possible benefits and risks to your health.
  • What are the best sources of isoflavones?

  • Soybeans are the most common source of isoflavones, with the most popular soy products being soy milk, tofu, edamame, soybeans and tempeh. Isoflavones can also be found in meat alternatives such as soy burgers, but be sure to check the nutrition labels; meat alternatives tend to have fewer isoflavones than other natural sources and can be high in sodium. Also, a number of isoflavone supplements are available for those who don’t like the taste of soy products.
  • What are symptoms of a deep venous thrombosis?

  • Blood clots most often occur in the leg or pelvis, but can also develop in the arm. Blood clots in the arm or leg can cause pain, swelling or discoloration of the limb, as well as a slight fever. However, some clots can present no symptoms, especially when occurring in the pelvis.

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