Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term the medical community uses to describe a multitude of heart diseases, including coronary artery disease. It describes conditions leading to chest pain, heart attacks and stroke, all of which share the same risk factors. Some of these factors are within a person's control, others are not.
Aging increases the risk of arteries becoming more narrow and weak, while the heart muscle becomes thicker, both of which contribute to heart disease. The American Heart Association adds that more than 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older. At older ages, a woman who has a heart attack is more likely to die than a man, usually within a few weeks of the episode.
Both the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association agree that men face a greater risk of having a heart attack than women, and tend to have them earlier in life. This risk continues after menopause when a woman's death rate from heart attacks increase. Their risk of experiencing a heart attack is not as great as a man's.
Smoking increases a person's risk of developing heart disease--the risk for a smoker is two to four times higher than that of a non-smoker. Not only does the nicotine cause the blood vessels to narrow, the carbon monoxide damages the inner lining of the blood vessels, resulting in atherosclerosis. This is a disease which causes plaque to build up and harden along the walls of the arteries, greatly reducing blood flow.
High cholesterol is another risk factor people can control and another factor that can lead to atherosclerosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. The higher a person's blood cholesterol, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease. This risk increases when other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are also present.
A risk factor out of a person's control, hereditary heart disease sometimes afflicts families. Children of parents face a greater risk, especially when the parent develops heart disease at a young age. This is age 55 for a brother or father, and age 65 for a mother or sister, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Excess body weight, especially around the waist, increases a person's risk of suffering from heart disease and stroke, even if no other risk factors exist. Not only does the excess weight increase the heart's work load, it increases blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association states that losing a mere 10 pounds can decrease a person's risk.
High Blood Pressure
Increasing the amount of work the heart must do, high blood pressure causes the heart to thicken and become stiff. It increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure, and when combined with other risk factors such as obesity, smoking or high cholesterol, the risk of these conditions increases.