What Are the Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease?

Last Updated : 09/15/20186 min read

Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease  

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among both men and women around the world, according to the American Heart Association. Here in the United States:

  • Nearly 86 million people have some degree of cardiovascular disease or are living with the effects of a stroke.

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  • There is one heart disease-related death about every 40 seconds in America.
  • More than 375,000 Americans die every year due to heart disease.

Given these statistics, it’s important to understand the cardiovascular disease risk factors and to make sure you are following your doctor’s recommendations for screening tests and exams to ensure early detection and better treatment outcomes. 

What are the cardiovascular disease risk factors?

The risk factors for cardiovascular disease can be divided into three distinct categories, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These are medical conditions, lifestyle factors, and family history/characteristics. These factors are discussed below.

Cardiovascular disease risk factors: medical conditions

Several chronic and common health conditions play an important role in cardiovascular disease risk factors, reports the CDC. These conditions include:

  • High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the pressure in your blood vessels is too high, affecting your heart, kidneys, and brain. High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it rarely causes symptoms until major organ damage has occurred. Medications can help control high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol can cause a waxy substance to build up along the walls of the arteries and even the heart itself, decreasing blood flow to the heart and other organs. There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). High LDL levels can lead to heart disease. If your doctor determines that your LDL levels are too high, she or he may recommend prescription drugs and dietary changes to lower these levels.
  • Diabetes can cause sugars, or glucose, to build up in the blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the risk of death from cardiovascular disease is two to four times higher in people with diabetes. 

Cardiovascular disease risk factors: lifestyle 

Personal behaviors can increase your cardiovascular disease risk factors, notes the CDC, including:

  • Unhealthy diet high in fats, cholesterol, and salt
  • Sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise
  • Alcohol consumption greater than one drink per day for women or two for men
  • Smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke, even if you don’t smoke
  • Excess weight which can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and hardening of the arteries 

Cardiovascular disease risk factors: family history and characteristics

These factors are out of your direct control, but it’s important to be aware of your cardiovascular disease risk factors based on family and personal characteristics, as the Centers for Disease Control describes.

  • Genetics (family history) probably play a role in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Personal characteristics such as age, sex, and ethnicity have a direct bearing on cardiovascular disease risk factors; heart disease is the leading cause of death among non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Native Americans.

How can I prevent cardiovascular disease?

If you have several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, you may want to take steps early to minimize your risk of developing the disease. The CDC recommends the following steps to help prevent cardiovascular disease, but consult your doctor first:

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  1. Eat a diet low in fat, cholesterol, and sugar, and high in fiber. Fresh fruits, and vegetables are generally very good for you.
  2. Maintain a healthy body weight.
  3. Get enough physical exercise. The Surgeon General of the United States recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise (such as bicycling or fast walking) each week for adults, reports the CDC. One hour of exercise per day is recommended for children and adolescents.
  4. Reduce your alcohol consumption to no more than seven drinks per week for women, 14 drinks per week for men.
  5. If you smoke, quit. This is an especially high risk factor. Ask your doctor for help if you struggle with quitting smoking on your own.
  6. Have your cholesterol checked regularly and follow your doctor’s recommendations for routine health screenings.
  7. Watch your blood pressure – high blood pressure can be dangerous and usually has no outward symptoms. The CDC says your health-care provider should check your blood pressure at least every two years (more often if you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure). .
  8. If you’re at risk for diabetes, see your doctor and get tested according to his or her recommendations. If you have diabetes, carefully follow your doctor’s treatment plan to keep your glucose levels in a normal range. 

Does Medicare cover cardiovascular disease screening or prevention?

If you are enrolled in Medicare Part B or a Medicare Advantage plan, you may be eligible for certain cardiovascular disease-related services at no additional cost to you if your health-care provider accepts Medicare assignment. Your doctor must order the tests as medically necessary. Although Medicare may cover the tests listed below, there may be other costs associated with your doctor visit.

  • Cardiovascular disease screening blood tests once every five years at no additional cost to you
  • Cardiovascular disease risk reduction counseling session each year, including high blood pressure screening
  • Smoking cessation treatment, up to eight sessions per year (12-month period, not a calendar year)
  • Obesity screening
  • Behavioral counseling sessions to help you lose weight if your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher.

Your doctor or other health care provider may recommend you get services more often than Medicare covers. Or, he or she may recommend services that Medicare doesn’t cover. If this happens, you may have to pay some or all of the costs. It’s important to ask questions so you understand why your doctor is recommending certain services and whether Medicare will pay for them.

*The plan can choose not to cover the costs of services that aren’t medically necessary under Medicare. If you’re not sure whether a service is covered, check with your provider before you get the service.

If you have questions about Medicare coverage for heart disease screenings and prevention, I’m happy to provide answers. You can request a phone call or an email with personalized information just for you by clicking the appropriate links at the bottom of the page. To see a list of plans in your area you may qualify for, click the “Compare Plans” button below.

Cardiovascular Disease


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