The 8 biggest cardiovascular risk factors – what to watch out for?

In 2021, more than 20.5 million deaths were due to cardiovascular disease – that’s more than a third of all global deaths.

Up to 80% of these deaths could be prevented with the right lifestyle changes that address the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Let’s find out what these cardiovascular risk factors are and how we can influence them:

What are cardiovascular diseases?

As the name suggests, cardiovascular diseases are a group of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease (inability of blood vessels to provide adequate oxygen)
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke: ischaemic (blood to the brain is stopped by a blockage) or haemorrhagic (caused by ruptures in the blood vessels);
  • Peripheral artery disease (abnormal blood flow to the extremities);
  • Aortic disease (aneurysm)
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism

Risk factors in cardiovascular disease

Risk factors are factors that can help us estimate the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. It’s good to know these risk factors because by influencing them we can increase our chances of living a long and healthy life. However, some risk factors cannot be influenced, which makes knowledge of influencing factors even more important. Let’s find out what to watch out for when it comes to cardiovascular disease risk:

Modifiable cardiovascular risk factors

When it comes to modifiable cardiovascular risk factors, we need to look out for the following aspects of our health:

Blood pressure

High blood pressure, known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, stroke and heart attack. Hypertension often has no obvious symptoms, but can be easily diagnosed by your doctor with a simple routine test.

This condition is often associated with overweight, lack of physical activity, excessive salt or alcohol consumption, or may be associated with age or a genetic component. However, in some cases the cause is unknown. Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a balanced diet and exercise routine, can help reduce high blood pressure, and in severe cases, medication may also be prescribed.

Blood glucose

The presence of diabetes, a condition characterised by high blood glucose levels, is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High concentrations of glucose can damage artery walls and encourage the build-up of fatty deposits (atheroma). When these fatty deposits appear in the coronary arteries, they can lead to coronary heart disease and heart attack.

LDL cholesterol

An excessive amount of LDL cholesterol (or “bad cholesterol”) in the blood can cause fatty substances to build up in the walls of the arteries, creating the risk of complications.

High LDL cholesterol levels are often caused by factors such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, or liver and kidney disease.

Of note: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as “good cholesterol,” helps transport cholesterol and fat to the liver, where it can be removed from the body. In general, higher HDL levels help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke – note that it is not high cholesterol in general that is dangerous, but high LDL cholesterol.

Obesity

Excess weight is another significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are contributing factors to the development of overweight, usually defined by a body mass index (BMI) outside the normal range. Unhealthy diet is also the cause of about 69% of deaths associated with cardiovascular disease. This shows us that a change in diet should be the first step in fighting cardiovascular disease.

Unchangeable cardiovascular risk factors

Unchangeable cardiovascular risk factors are as follows:

Age

Cardiovascular diseases are strongly age-dependent, mainly affecting people over 50. The older a person is, the greater the risk of developing heart disease.

Sex

At all ages, men have a higher risk of heart disease than women and, on average, develop cardiovascular disease about 10 years earlier.

Ethnicity

People of South Asian or sub-Saharan African origin have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to people of European origin. In contrast, people of South American or Chinese origin have a lower risk.

Genetic history

A family history of premature death due to cardiovascular disease is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

How can we influence risk factors?

Our heart health is essential for a long and happy life – that’s why it’s important to prevent cardiovascular disease by influencing risk factors. There are several ways we can do this:

  • Following a healthy diet as promoted by the Mediterranean diet
  • Regular movement – at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day
  • Smoking cessation and alcohol
  • Blood glucose/blood pressure/cholesterol monitoring

You don’t have to make the journey to a healthy heart on your own! The Dahna nutrition and health app is your ally in preventing cardiovascular disease. By setting up a cardiometabolic profile, you can monitor your risk of cardiovascular disease on a regular basis. Not only that, but you’ll get daily menus tailored to your body’s needs, inspired by the Mediterranean diet and built with trusted medical expertise. Download the app for a healthy and happy life!

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