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The 6 worst heart disease risk factors

You probably already know what puts you at risk for heart disease: smoking, diabetes, age, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, to name a few. But did you know some factors are more dangerous than others? Piedmont Heart Institute cardiologists Robi Goswami, M.D., and Raul Blanco, M.D., share the signs that raise a big red flag for heart disease.

1. A previous heart event

The most significant risk factor is previous coronary artery disease, stent or heart attack,” says Dr. Blanco. “Those people are at higher risk for heart events than people without coronary artery disease.”

2. Diabetes and peripheral artery disease

“There is a certain group of patients with what we call coronary artery disease equivalents, meaning the patient has a disease that is almost the equivalent of having heart disease,” says Dr. Goswami.

This includes diabetes and peripheral artery disease.

“Diabetes is the number one risk factor,” explains Dr. Blanco. “It always portends a bad outcome with heart, kidney or cerebral diseases/function.”

Peripheral artery disease can cause a blockage in the artery that supplies the legs, a blockage in the carotid artery or an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

3. Family history

There are some patients with a very severe early family history of the disease, whose parents or siblings had heart disease in their 40s or 50s. This puts them at a higher risk for heart disease.

4. Smoking

Not only can smoking lead to lung cancer, it can also harm your heart.

“If you currently smoke, you should quit,” says Dr. Goswami. “Doing so can drastically cut your risk for heart disease.”

5. Age

“The older you are, the higher your risk for heart disease,” explains Dr. Blanco.

While aging is inevitable, you can focus your prevention efforts on controllable heart disease risk factors.

6. Hypertension and high cholesterol

Which is more dangerous – high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Dr. Blanco says it’s a tie.

Hypertension and high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) are weighted almost equally,” he explains.

Heart disease prevention

“If you have any concern about your heart health, see someone early,” says Dr. Goswami. “Once you have the disease, it’s all about management, but it can be prevented. The key in high-risk patients is prevention.”

To learn more about heart disease prevention and treatment, visit Piedmont Heart Institute

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