What is heart disease?

Heart disease may refer to several types of heart problems. The most common type is coronary artery disease, which affects blood flow to the heart.


What are risk factors?

Risk factors are traits and lifestyle habits that can increase your chance of heart disease. So, it’s important to know them. Your lifestyle, age, family history and certain health conditions can increase your risk for heart disease. About half of all Americans have at least 1 of 3 key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.

Do you know your risk for heart disease?


Here are the key risk factors for heart disease:

Health conditions

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage your arteries. This can reduce blood flow and lead to heart attacks, heart failure and other serious issues.
  • High LDL cholesterol: LDL cholesterol is sometimes called called “bad” cholesterol. It can build up in artery walls. The build-up may reduce blood flow to your heart and other parts of your body. This can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke and irregular heartbeat.
  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease than someone without it.2 High blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart. People with diabetes are also more likely to have other health problems that raise the risk for heart disease.
  • Obesity: Many people who suffer from obesity may also suffer from heart disease risk factors, like diabetes and problems with blood pressure and cholesterol.


  • Smoking and tobacco: Tobacco damages the heart and blood vessels, which can increase your risk of having a heart attack or other heart problems. Nicotine may raise blood pressure.
  • Lack of movement: Regular exercise can help reduce your heart disease risk. It can also help prevent other risk factors, like obesity.
  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It can also increase your levels of triglycerides (a fatty substance found in the blood that can harm your heart).
  • Diet high in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol: A healthy diet is one of the best ways to help prevent heart disease.

Family history

If your father, mother or sibling has had a heart attack, bypass surgery, or needed stents, you may be at higher risk for heart disease. You may also be at higher risk if you have family members with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Some heart problems can be genetic3, such as:

  • Marfan syndrome
  • Amyloidosis
  • Heart failure (cardiomyopathy)
  • Arrhythmias
  • Valvular heart disease

Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors for heart disease. They may recommend health screenings, changes to your daily habits or prescribe medication to help you reduce, control or prevent as many risk factors as possible.  



  1. “Know Your Risk for Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed Jan. 19, 2023, cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm.
  2. “Diabetes and Your Heart,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed Jan. 19, 2023, cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-and-heart.html.
  3. “Family matters: Understanding genetic risk for heart disease,” University of Chicago Medicine, last accessed Jan. 19, 2023, uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/heart-and-vascular-articles/understanding-genetic-risk-for-heart-disease.