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Cardiovascular Institute

Are You at Risk?

Many risk factors for cardiovascular disease exist and may increase a woman’s chances of heart attack or stroke.


Smoking and being exposed routinely to secondhand smoke can drastically increase anyone’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease. It is also one of the most preventable risk factors. Quitting smoking now, or getting your loved one to quit, can benefit not only you, but those around you.

There may be other factors putting you at risk without you even knowing. When visiting your doctor, it is important to ask questions pertaining to your risk of heart disease. However, it is also imperative to understand what topics to ask about and why they are important to you.

Blood Pressure

Being given a blood pressure test is routine for most visits to a physician, but interpreting the results is the most important aspect of the test. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, usually has no symptoms. A blood pressure reading is recorded as two numbers, such as 112/78. The top or systolic number represents the pressure exerted on blood vessel walls during a heart beat. The lower or diastolic number represents the pressure during the rest between heart beats. If an otherwise healthy adult maintains a systolic pressure of 120 to 139, or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89, he/she is in prehypertension. If the systolic pressure reaches higher than 139 and the diastolic pressure exceeds 89, the condition is hypertension. Hypertension can lead to stroke, angina, heart attack or heart failure.

When receiving results from a blood test, three factors must be paid special attention. Cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels may affect heart disease and it is valuable to know what your results are telling you.


Cholesterol levels are actually measured by addingyour levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol). The “bad” cholesterol is what can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. “Good” cholesterol, on the other hand, serves to protect arteries by eliminating excess “bad” cholesterol and preventing blockages from forming. Ideally, the combined cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), with HDL comprising at least 45 mg/dL of that measurement.


Triglycerides are actually calories in foods (generally calories from fat), or are made by the body from another food source, that are not used in the body right away. They travel through the bloodstream en route to fat cells and can cause arterial blockages. A normal triglyceride count is below 150 mg/dL, but ideally, that number should be under 100 mg/dL.

Glucose Levels/Diabetes

Glucose levels above 100 mg/dL may be an indication of a glucose tolerance issue. This may increase your risk of diabetes, which in turn increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. For those who have already been diagnosed with diabetes, careful monitoring of other risk factors is necessary to prevent developing any heart related medical issues.

Body Weight/Composition

The human body is comprised of water, fat, protein, carbohydrate and various vitamins and minerals. When the composition of your body is overwhelmed with fat, particularly around the stomach area, your risk increases for developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and, ultimately, diabetes.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is the relationship between your height and weight, which is an indirect measurement of the amount of fat on your body. When considering your BMI, keep in mind the following:

  • BMI values less than 18.5 are considered underweight.
  • BMI values between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered healthy.
  • BMI values between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, and pose increasing threats of heart disease.
  • BMI values of 30 and over indicate obesity and present even higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Physical Activity

Physical activity can greatly benefit any individual, especially those who are at risk of heart disease. Aerobic exercise and resistance training can hinder several of the risk factors that may be taking a toll on your body.

Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure and minimize triglyceride levels. It also helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which can prevent the development of diabetes. Smokers are also more likely to cut down or quit smoking if they become more physically active.


The loss of estrogen in women who have gone through menopause can be an added risk for heart disease. Whether menopause was brought on naturally or prematurely by surgery, studies have shown that the loss of this hormone increases the likelihood of heart attacks.

Family History

Those who have an immediate family member (mother, father, sibling) or grandparent who has suffered from heart disease are at a significantly higher risk of developing it themselves. It is important to discuss with your doctor the medical history of these family members to discern how much could affect you.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a set of risk factors that are discovered in a particular individual. To identify metabolic syndrome, a person must be diagnosed with at least three of the following:

  • Waist circumference greater than 35 inches
  • High levels of triglycerides (greater than 150 mg/dL)
  • Low levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol (less than 50 mg/dL)
  • Blood pressure greater than 130/85
  • Fasting glucose levels of 100 mg/dL or higher
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