Heart Disease: Risk Factors and Symptoms

Last Updated : 09/15/20184 min read

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. About a quarter of all deaths are due to heart disease, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms of heart disease and know your risk factors for the condition.

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What are the risk factors for heart disease?

CDC data shows that 47% of adults have at least one of the key risk factors for heart disease, which include smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol. There are several other risk factors for heart disease, which the CDC breaks down into three categories: Behavior, medical conditions, and family history.

Behavioral risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Obesity
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • High fat, high cholesterol diet
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking

The CDC notes that these risk factors can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices to lower your chances of developing heart disease.

There are also medical conditions that may increase your risk:

  • High blood pressure/hypertension.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.

If you have any of these diseases, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep them under control to lower your risk of heart disease, according to the CDC.

Finally, there are other risk factors for heart disease that relate to your genetic makeup and personal characteristics. Unlike the risk factors for heart disease noted above, these are factors you cannot change or control. They include:

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Advanced age (your risk increases as you get older)
  • Race (heart disease is more prevalent in non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites, and Native Americans)

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

It’s difficult to list one particular group of symptoms of heart disease, since each different type of heart disease may cause different symptoms. The Mayo Clinic identifies six different types of heart disease and the symptoms for each:

Atherosclerotic disease (heart disease in the blood vessels)

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure.
  • Numbness or weakness of the arms and legs.
  • Pain in the upper back, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, or throat.

Heart arrhythmias (heart disease due to abnormal heartbeats)

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  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • A fluttering feeling in the chest.
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting.
  • Chest discomfort.

Cardiomyopathy (heart disease caused by weakened or damaged heart muscles)

  • Feeling breathless during exercise or even just at rest.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Fluttering or pounding irregular heartbeats.
  • Swelling of the extremities.

Cardiac infections

  • Fever.
  • Dry cough.
  • Abdominal swelling or swelling in the lower extremities.
  • Fatigue, shortness of breath.
  • Skin rash.

Valvular heart disease

  • Fainting or near-fainting.
  • Irregular heart rate.
  • Fatigue.
  • Ankle swelling.
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath.

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking emergency medical attention if you have chest pain or shortness of breath.

What can I do to decrease my risk factors for heart disease?

The CDC suggests that you can make heart-healthy lifestyle choices to lower your risk of developing heart disease. These include:

  • Eat a low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol diet and cut back on sugar consumption.
  • Get at least 2-1/2 hours of exercise per week. (Consult a doctor before beginning an exercise program)
  • If you smoke, take steps now to quit.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Know your ABCS for a healthy heart: Use Aspirin therapy if you need it, control your Blood pressure, watch your Cholesterol, and quit Smoking if you currently use tobacco.

Need more information on Medicare and symptoms of heart disease?

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