The Main Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Diseases
Cardiovascular disease is a general term that is used to describe any condition affecting the heart and the blood vessels. There are four main types of cardiovascular disease: stroke, coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and aortic disease. Collectively, these make cardiovascular disease the leading cause of death worldwide, particularly in Western countries. There are several different factors that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, some of which can be altered by a change in behaviour.
Hypertension is one of the primary causes of cardiovascular disease. This is more commonly known as high blood pressure, and there are many different possible reasons why this can develop. Having blood pressure above 140/90mmHG seriously increases the risk of a blood clot forming in one of the arteries near to your heart, and this, in turn, leads to either a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension can be caused by a diet that contains too much saturated fat or salt, both of which increase the volume of blood, pushing up the pressure because it still needs to fit into the same blood vessels.
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors because it damages the lining of the arteries and encourages the build-up of fatty material. The carbon monoxide produced in cigarette smoke also binds to the red blood cells in place of oxygen, which means that our heart is pumping harder to try to supply enough oxygen to the cells. The presence of cigarette smoke also means that blood clots are more likely to occur, considerably increasing the risk of both heart attack and stroke.
A diet high in salt and saturated fat leads to a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Salt increases blood pressure while saturated fat is an extremely rich source of cholesterol, the substance that builds up on the lining of the arteries and causes them to become narrow. Trans fats are also another type of fat that leads to high cholesterol.
Being overweight or obese has a significant impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is often linked to a number of other factors as weight gain usually results from a combination of a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Too little exercise leads to weight gain, which causes the heart to pump harder to move the blood around the body. Excessive consumption of alcohol may also be associated with obesity, and certainly leads to a greater chance of heart problems in the future.
Research has recently shown that developing the symptoms of insomnia puts people at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and heart failure later in life. This could also be linked with stress, which is a leading cause of insomnia, but the presence of stress hormones such as cortisol in the blood cause the heart to beat faster than normal, so damage is more likely to occur.
In addition to these risk factors, there are also several that cannot be altered by a change in lifestyle, although they do play a role in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These risk factors include:
- Family history (having close relatives who have been affected increases the chances);
- Ethnic background;
- Gender (men are more likely to be affected than women);
- Age, as the symptoms are more commonly seen in older adults.