Age: The older you are, the most likely is that you will suffer a cardiovascular event. Although this is considered a unmodifiable risk factor (because, unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do to stop or reverse the aging process), it is sensible to start thinking of cardiovascular prevention at an early age, so that the modifiable risk factors can be dealt with early. We generally recommend screening for diabetes and high cholesterol ###, particularly if there is history of heart disease in your family.
Family history: If you have a first degree relative (parents and siblings) who suffered a cardiovascular event at an early age (<60s for males and <70 for females), the chances are you might be carrying some of their unlucky genes. This is also considered a unmodifiable risk factor (you can’t yet change your genes), but a very useful piece of information when your overall cardiovascular risk is being calculated. Pragmatically, if there is a strong family history of cardiac events in your family, you should treat your other risks factors much more aggressively.
Diabetes: Diabetes and pre-diabetes (sugar intolerance) are one the leading causes of heart disease. If you have diabetes you are more likely to suffer a heart attack and a stroke, particularly if you don’t keep your sugar levels under control. The good news is that the most common type of diabetes (type 2) is treatable and often reversible if you follow the correct specialist advise. It is very important to detect diabetes early, with a simple blood test, to avoid its long-term deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system.
High cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in your blood (particularly the so called “bad” LDL-cholesterol) cause fat deposition inside your arteries, which ultimately can lead to heart attacks and strokes. High cholesterol is a classic silent killer: chances are you won’t know you have it because in itself it causes no symptoms. But high cholesterol can be easily detected with a simple blood test which, together with your overall risk profile, allows physicians to offer you individualised guidance on how best to treat it (diet, exercise and drugs called statins).
Smoking: Cigarette smoking dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular events, even in light smokers (<5 cigarettes/day). Smoking is particularly harmful to women and in the presence of other cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes. Passive smokers are also at risk, so convincing your partner or friend to stop smoking could help your health too.
High blood pressure: Raised levels of blood pressure is one of the major causes of cardiovascular events, particularly stroke and cardiac failure. Similarly to high cholesterol, high blood pressure is considered a silent enemy, as it can cause serious damages for your circulation without any symptoms. Early detection and treatment with lifestyle changes and medications can dramatically reduce the chances of stroke and heart attacks.
Other important risk factors: Obesity and sedentarism are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular problems because they lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are the root of the problem. Therefore, they indirectly cause cardiovascular disease. Mental stress and anxiety are also associated to cardiac events, particularly heart attacks.