What are Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors?

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease are particular habits, behaviors, circumstances, or conditions that increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including lack of exercise, unhealthy eating, smoking, diabetes, age, and family history.

Cardiovascular disease is a broad, umbrella term used to describe all conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system, including coronary heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and aortic disease.[1]

Good to know: Cardiovascular disease is sometimes called “heart disease”, but in medical terms, they are not exactly the same thing. Heart disease is a general term for conditions affecting the structure of the heart and the way it functions. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases. However, not all cardiovascular diseases are heart diseases. An example is stroke, which affects blood vessels in the brain, but not the heart itself.[2]

Cardiovascular disease risk factors can be split into two categories: modifiable and non-modifiable.[3] Non-modifiable cardiovascular disease risk factors are those that cannot be changed. These include a person’s age, ethnicity, and family history (genetics cannot be changed), among other factors. Modifiable cardiovascular disease risk factors are those that can be reduced or controlled with altered behavior. By making certain lifestyle changes, people are able to lower their chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Examples include smoking, diet, and exercise.

Possessing one or more risk factors increases a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease; it does not, however, mean that cardiovascular disease is an inevitability.[1] If you think that you might have signs of cardiovascular disease.

Family history

There is a genetic element to cardiovascular disease, meaning a family history of the condition is considered to be a risk factor. Generally, this applies if a person’s first-degree relative developed CVD at what may be considered a relatively young age. This is the case if the person’s father or brother developed the cardiovascular disease before the age of 55, or their mother or sister developed it before the age of 65.[4][5]

A family history of high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes can also increase one’s chances of developing these conditions, which can in turn increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Having a family history of heart disease does not mean CVD is inevitable but does make it more likely. Leading a healthy lifestyle is generally recommended to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in those with a genetic predisposition to the condition.


Older people are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Although the process of aging cannot be changed, leading a generally healthy lifestyle is recommended to help reduce the likelihood of developing heart and circulatory conditions.


Statistics suggest that people of South Asian, African, or Caribbean descent have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Type 2 diabetes – a risk factor in itself for cardiovascular disease – also seems to be more prevalent among these groups. The reasons for this are difficult to define. However, leading a healthy lifestyle is generally recommended as a way for people from all backgrounds to help prevent heart and circulatory disease from developing.[6][^13]


While it may have long been seen as a man’s disease, the risk of cardiovascular disease in women has been underestimated, and symptoms may go unrecognized, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Though CVD risk factors are shared by men and women, some may be more prevalent and/or more significant for one sex or gender; for example, having diabetes may be a stronger risk for certain types of CVD in women. Research is ongoing.[7][8][9][10]

Women tend to develop cardiovascular disease at an older age than men. This later age of onset in women is thought to be linked to the hormonal changes that follow menopause.[7][8][9][10]

If you are concerned about your cardiovascular disease risk profile, it is advisable to consult a doctor, who should be able to answer any questions you may have.

Socioeconomic status

People who have a low socioeconomic status seem to be at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the reasons behind this are multiple and their relationships complex, diet is generally considered to be one of the biggest factors, with those from a higher socioeconomic background typically having greater access to a more nutritionally-balanced diet.[11]


High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – also known as “bad cholesterol” – are linked to a range of cardiovascular diseases. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is carried around the body by proteins. If too much LDL cholesterol is present, it can cause fatty substances to build up in the artery walls and lead to complications.

High levels of LDL cholesterol are often caused by factors such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, physical inactivity, high alcohol intake and liver, and kidney disease. To reduce LDL cholesterol levels, people can eat a balanced diet, undertake regular exercise and quit smoking. Those with extremely high levels of LDL cholesterol may be prescribed medication lower them, most often statins.

Good to know: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is known as “good cholesterol”. This cholesterol transports cholesterol and fats from around the body to the liver, where they can be removed. Unlike LDL, it is generally a good thing to have a high level of HDL, as this can help lower one’s risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. Eating healthily, staying active, avoiding tobacco, and limiting alcohol intake can all help to increase HDL cholesterol levels.[12]

High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure, known as hypertension, is another contributing factor to cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, stroke, and heart attack. High blood pressure is often symptomless but can be easily diagnosed by a doctor, using a routine test.

High blood pressure is often linked to being overweight, physical inactivity, a high intake of salt or alcohol or a family history of the disorder, but in some cases may have no apparent cause. Lifestyle changes may help to reduce high blood pressure and, in severe cases, medication may be prescribed.[13]


Having diabetes, a condition that causes high levels of glucose in the blood is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. High glucose levels can damage the artery walls and make the buildup of fatty deposits (atheroma) more likely. If these fatty deposits occur in the coronary arteries, they can lead to possible coronary heart disease and heart attack.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1, which involves the body being unable to produce insulin and which usually develops in children and young adults, and type 2 diabetes, which is more likely to affect older people, though is becoming more common in younger people, and which involves the body either not making enough insulin or the body becoming resistant to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is closely associated with a lifestyle that leads to being overweight and physical inactivity.

Read more about Diabetes »

Eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise, and leading a generally healthy lifestyle can both help manage diabetes in those who already have the condition and help prevent the onset of the condition in those that don’t. In people with diabetes, careful management of blood sugar levels is also very important in helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.[14]


Smoking tobacco significantly increases the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages and narrows the arteries, making angina pectoris and heart attack more likely. Angina pectoris is a condition characterized by pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, caused by the heart muscle not getting enough blood.[15][16] Nicotine also makes the heart beat faster and increases blood pressure, meaning the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body.[17]

Soon after quitting smoking, health benefits such as improved circulation, better taste and smell and a stronger immune system can usually be noticed. Doctors and other health professionals are able to offer advice on how to quit smoking.[18][19]

Physical inactivity

Physical inactivity is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Not exercising regularly increases a person’s chances of being overweight, having high blood pressure, and of developing other conditions that make cardiovascular disease more likely.[20]

To see substantial health benefits, experts recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week. If this is not possible, any amount of physical activity is always preferable to none at all.[21]

Being overweight (obesity)

Being overweight is another leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Eating an unhealthy diet and being physically inactive are both contributing factors to being overweight, which is generally defined as having a body mass index (BMI) outside the normal range.[22]

Taking steps to lose weight through lifestyle and dietary changes can help reduce the risk of a range of cardiovascular conditions, including coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure.


Eating an unhealthy diet is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. To lower the risk, a balanced diet made up of plenty of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein should be aimed at and excess fats, salts, and sugars avoided.

Alcohol should also be consumed in moderation, if at all. In many countries, this is defined as a maximum of 14 units of alcohol per week, with some experts recommending half that for women. The week should include several alcohol-free days. One unit is equal to approximately one small glass of beer or wine, or one “shot” of distilled spirits or liquor, e.g. whisky, gin.[23][24][25]

Cardiovascular disease risk factors FAQs

Other names for cardiovascular disease risk factors

  • CVD risk factors
  • Heart disease risk factors

  1. British Heart Foundation. “Cardiovascular disease.” Accessed September 25, 2017.

  2. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Know the Differences: Cardiovascular Disease, Heart Disease, Coronary Heart Disease.” Accessed August 7, 2018.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?” February, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  4. NHS Choices. “Cardiovascular disease.” September 7, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  5. PLOS One. “Parental Age of Onset of Cardiovascular Disease as a Predictor for Offspring Age of Onset of Cardiovascular Disease.” December 21, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2018.

  6. NCBI. “Ethnic Differences in Cardiovascular Disease.” June, 2003. Accessed September 25, 2017.
    [13]: British Heart Foundation.“Your ethnicity and heart disease.” Accessed September 25, 2017.

  7. NCBI. “Gender differences in cardiovascular disease and comorbid depression.” March 9, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  8. Netherlands Heart Journal. “Gender differences in coronary heart disease.” December, 2010. Accessed February 23, 2018.

  9. American College of Cardiology. “Gender in Cardiovascular Diseases.” November 20, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2018.

  10. Harvard Health Publishing. “Gender matters: Heart disease risk in women.” March 25, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2018.

  11. NCBI. “Socioeconomic status and risk factors for cardiovascular disease: Impact of dietary mediators.” January, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  12. MedlinePlus. “HDL: The ‘Good’ Cholesterol.” December 4, 2017. Accessed August 7, 2018.

  13. British Heart Foundation. “High blood pressure.” Accessed September 25, 2017.

  14. British Heart Foundation. “Diabetes and your heart.” Accessed September 25, 2017.

  15. American Heart Association. “Angina Pectoris (Stable Angina).” August 21, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2018.

  16. Southern Cross Medical Library. “Angina – causes, symptoms, treatment, prevention.” April, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2018.

  17. British Heart Foundation. “Smoking.” Accessed September 25, 2017.

  18. Quit. “How to reverse the health effects of smoking.” Accessed February 19, 2018.

  19. NHS Choices. “10 health benefits of stopping smoking.” January 16, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2018.

  20. NCBI. “Physical inactivity as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: a WHO and International Society and Federation of Cardiology position statement.” 1994. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  21. Health. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” 2008. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  22. CDC. “Defining Adult Overweight and Obesity.” June 16, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2017.

  23. Drinkaware. “Latest UK alcohol unit guidance.” Accessed February 19, 2018.

  24. Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council. “Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.” August 8, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2017.

  25. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Frequently Asked Questions.” June 8, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2017.

  26. American Heart Association. “Stress and Heart Health.” April 17, 2018. Accessed August 7, 2018.

  27. The Lancet. “Job strain as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data.” 27 October–2 November 2012. Accessed August 7, 2018.

  28. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease.” April, 2008. Accessed August 7, 2018.

  29. Current Cardiology Reports. “Work Stress as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease.” September, 2015. Accessed August 7, 2018.

**Question: What are ​the Risk Factors for Developing Cardiovascular Disease?**


Cardiovascular disease ​(CVD) refers​ to conditions affecting the ‍heart and‍ blood vessels. Various factors contribute to the risk of developing CVD, including:

**Non-Modifiable Risk Factors:**

* **Age:**⁤ Advanced age increases the risk of ‌atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

* **Family history:** A history of CVD in⁤ the family, particularly premature CVD, suggests a genetic predisposition.

* **Race and ethnicity:** Certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans and American Indians, ‌are more likely to develop ⁣CVD.

* **Sex:** Men have a ​higher risk of developing CVD, ⁢but women are more likely to die from it.

**Modifiable Risk Factors:**

*​ **Hypertension (High​ Blood Pressure):** ‌Uncontrolled high blood⁢ pressure is a ⁣major risk factor for CVD.

* **High cholesterol:** Elevated levels of low-density​ lipoprotein ‌(LDL) or “bad” cholesterol contribute to plaque buildup in arteries.

* **Diabetes:** Uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels and increase blood sugar, leading to vessel narrowing.

* **Obesity:** Excess weight‌ increases the risk of developing high⁤ blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

* **Smoking:** Smoking damages​ blood ‍vessels and promotes plaque formation.

* ​**Physical inactivity:** ‌Regular exercise ‌helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and improves overall ⁢cardiovascular⁣ health.

* **Unhealthy diet:** A diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar increases ⁤the risk of CVD.

* **Excessive alcohol consumption:** Heavy ​drinking can damage the heart muscle and contribute to ​high blood pressure.

* **Stress:** Chronic stress can elevate‍ blood pressure and release hormones that can ⁤harm the cardiovascular system.

* **Air pollution:** Exposure to ⁢air pollutants,⁣ such as particulate‌ matter and ​ozone, has been linked to increased cardiovascular events.

* ⁣**Sleep ​disorders:** Poor sleep, ⁢including ‍obstructive sleep apnea, can​ disrupt hormone regulation ​and contribute to CVD.

**Warning Signs and Symptoms:**

Symptoms of CVD may include:

* Chest pain or discomfort (angina)

* Shortness of breath or fatigue

* ⁢Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat

* ⁤Pain in the arms,‌ neck, back, or jaw

* Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

* Sudden ⁣collapse‌ or ‍loss of​ consciousness

* Swelling in the legs, ankles, or ​abdomen

If you ​experience any of ⁢these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Early detection and‌ treatment can significantly improve the chances of successful management and prevent life-threatening‌ complications of CVD.

**Preventive Measures:**

To reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, focus on:

* Maintaining a healthy ⁤blood pressure

* Lowering cholesterol levels

* Managing diabetes

* Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight

* Quitting⁣ smoking

* Engaging in regular ⁣physical activity

* Eating a nutritious diet

* Limiting alcohol consumption

* Managing stress effectively

* Getting enough sleep

* Protecting yourself ‌from air pollution

* Working⁢ with your healthcare provider ‌to identify and address specific risk ⁢factors

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *