Many factors may increase a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease, including certain health conditions. However, people may reduce their risk by making lifestyle changes.

Heart disease, which doctors may call cardiovascular disease (CVD), is a general term that includes conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. It is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one person dying every 34 seconds.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. It may cause decreased blood flow to the heart, which can result in a heart attack or heart failure.

This article discusses different risk factors for heart disease, tips to reduce the risk of heart disease, and when to speak with a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Risk factors for heart disease that a person may manage include:

Some experts argue that risk factors that lead to the hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, are the most important to address as it is a common cause of heart disease.

Risk factors associated with heart disease that a person cannot control include:

  • family history of CVD
  • being 65 or older
  • being male, although females are more likely to die from heart disease

Rates of severe high blood pressure — a risk factor for heart disease — are disproportionately higher among Black people. Other groups of people who may have a higher risk of heart disease include:

  • Mexican Americans
  • American Indians
  • native Hawaiians
  • some Asian Americans

Learn more about CVD and race.

Nearly half of the U.S. population has at least one of the three major risk factors for heart disease. People may calculate their risk of stroke and CVD by using the Check. Change. Control Calculator by the American Heart Association (AHA).

A person should speak with a healthcare professional to find out more about their individual risk.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, a healthy diet may include the following:

People should consider limiting:

Healthy eating involves maintaining a caloric balance. A 2019 study found that restricting calories improved insulin sensitivity, blood sugar, and inflammation. However, a person should speak with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to their diet.

A 2017 study found an association between more physical activity and lower mortality in people with stable CAD. Sedentary individuals and those with the highest mortality risk experienced the largest benefits from exercise.

A person should aim to exercise regularly. A 2018 study found that people with CAD who maintained low amounts of physical activity had a lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who became inactive over time.

Obesity may contribute to the development of CVD through its association with other risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Intentional weight loss may help modify risk factors associated with obesity. It may help:

  • reduce insulin resistance
  • reduce inflammation
  • improve endothelial function — endothelial cells line the heart and blood vessels and release substances that help maintain blood flow
  • decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome

However, a person should speak with a healthcare professional about losing weight safely.

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase a person’s risk of death from CAD. The chemicals a person inhales while smoking can damage blood vessels and the heart, which may lead to atherosclerosis.

A 2022 study found that if a person stops smoking when they receive a CVD diagnosis, they may reduce their risk of recurrent CVD by one-third. However, quitting smoking at any time reduces a person’s risk of developing — or dying from — CVD.

Drinking alcohol in excess may lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for CVD.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend adults limit their alcohol intake to one drink or less per day for females and two drinks or less per day for males.

High blood pressure increases the strain on the heart, causing its muscle walls to thicken and stiffen, resulting in abnormal heart function.

The AHA and the American College of Cardiology recommend people keep their blood pressure at 120/80-millimeter mercury (mm Hg) or less.

A healthcare professional can help a person monitor and understand their blood pressure level.

People with type 2 diabetes are two times more likely to develop and die from heart disease. Many people with the condition also have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity, which further increase their risk.

A person with diabetes may help reduce their risk of CVD by managing their risk factors and monitoring their:

A person should speak with a doctor about their individual risk for developing heart disease and ensure to follow a doctor’s guidance to help manage any existing medical conditions.

Heart disease can lead to life threatening complications, including heart attack and heart failure. People with heart disease should speak with a healthcare professional about managing their condition.

A person should immediately call 911 or go to the emergency room if they feel symptoms of a heart attack:

Heart disease can lead to complications such as heart attack, heart failure, and death. To reduce the risk of heart disease, a person can make the necessary lifestyle changes, which may include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a moderate weight, and quitting smoking.

A person should speak with a doctor about their individual risk of developing heart disease and the best ways to reduce their risk.