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Heart Disease Risk Factors

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Did You Know?

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and stroke is number four.

It’s never too early to learn how to prevent heart disease and heart attacks. In fact, the Florida Hospital Volusia/Flagler Cardiovascular Institutes and the American Heart Association recommend beginning the process at age 20. You can start by knowing your risk factors and getting up to speed on the symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack.

Risk Factors

There are a variety of risk factors that contribute to a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some can’t be changed, and some can be modified or treated by altering your lifestyle.

Risk factors include:

  • Being age 65 or older
  • Being male
  • Having a family history of heart disease
  • Being African American, Mexican American, American Indian, Hawaiian and sometimes Asian American, in part due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes
  • Being obese
  • Smoking and using excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Having high cholesterol or high blood pressure
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Having diabetes mellitus
  • Stress
  • Eating a high-fat diet

What You Can Do

The good news is that many of these factors can be mediated by making some lifestyle changes. The Florida Hospital Volusia/Flagler Cardiovascular Institute recommends exercising 30 minutes a day most days of the week, eating a low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits and high-fiber foods, reducing alcohol consumption and stress when possible, as well as eliminating smoking. In addition, higher-risk patients should talk to their doctors about what other measures can be taken to manage heart disease risk, such as managing diabetes, cholesterol and high-blood pressure.

Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

While some heart attacks happen suddenly, some start mildly and slowly without anyone realizing what is happening. Below is a list of warning signs of a heart attack, and always keep in mind that when it comes to heart attacks, the faster medical attention is received, the better the outcome will be.


  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating, nausea or lightheadedness

Heart Disease in Women

Even though men are at a higher risk for developing heart disease, women need to be just as careful. Heart disease is still the number one killer of women, and women don’t tend to be referred as often for cardiac testing. It is also important to remember that when women have heart attacks, they are more likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea or flu-like feelings
  • Fatigue
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