When we’re exploring cardiac risk factors, we’re looking at a broad category of two major groups. One is the non-modifiable risk factors, and they are, unfortunately, things we can’t change or can’t do too much about, and the second, are the modifiable ones. That is really where the greatest impact can be had at reducing the risk of building up complications in the future. Developing heart disease can include things like angina, a syndrome where you develop chest pains and problems like that, but also heart attacks and preventing the risk of that.
This entity of cardiovascular disease results from a build-up of fatty deposits and plaques or a process known as atherosclerosis. This is a development of cholesterol that builds up in the wall of an artery that over time can progressively worse, causing a reduction in blood flow, thereby symptoms. This process of atherosclerosis can also put us at a higher risk of developing blood clots within the artery and all it takes is a little bit of a fragment of cholesterol to break off the wall of the artery exposing the underlying layer of plaque to all the blood cells in our arteries.
This can have significant consequences, for example, if an artery were to block off in our heart, completely blocking off and starving the muscle of oxygen, then that is a medical emergency. So cardiovascular continues to represent the leading cause of disability and death in our community. Having an understanding of what these cardiovascular risk factors are, helps us to better reduce our risk of developing them long-term.
As we get older, there is a higher incidence and risk of developing events. Male gender is also another risk factor. However, there is an increasing risk of cardiovascular events beyond menopause, but the male gender still stands for a higher risk of developing cardiovascular episodes.
There might be a family history of having had a heart attack or stroke in the past. When we talk about family history, we focus on a cardiovascular episode that has occurred in a first-degree relative at a younger age and that age is typically around 40 or 50 years. That genetic risk may also translate to a genetic risk of high cholesterol because there are genetic factors that can make our cholesterol more vulnerable to be increased and can run in families. So, if you are aware of a family history of heart disease occurring at a relatively younger age, then we think it’s important that you get risk assessed with your local doctor.
When doctors tackle cardiovascular risk factors, the key, ones they want to focus on, are the adjustable ones. Blood pressure or high blood pressure, over time, causes a build-up of plaque in the arteries but also causes thickening in the arteries. That thickening cannot only affect the arteries around the heart but also the brain, our eyes, of our kidneys and makes us more vulnerable to building up problems such as clots.
It is a condition whereby we have an excess amount of glucose circulating in our bodies typically because of a reduction in the amount of insulin our pancreas produces. When the insulin levels are quite low and when the pancreases have to work overtime in dealing with elevated levels of glucose in our body, then it becomes a challenge. Therefore, we become more vulnerable to building up glucose in our body, which can have significant consequences not only on the blood flow but also on the kidneys.
Having some understanding about whether any genetic factors predispose you to have high cholesterol is especially important for you to know. A cholesterol level being high can increase the risk.
The benefits are significant in stopping smoking or reducing smoking. It has a substantial impact on reducing the long-term risk of the development of a cardiovascular event.
We’ve talked about almost all the major risk factors but being inactive can also be a significant risk factor here. Being inactive leads us to a higher potential risk of body weight. That body weight and increased fat accumulation can make us more vulnerable to developing other risk factors such as diabetes. It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle, unfortunately, with all these risk factors. Knowing about these risk factors can help us target these in the future and therefore reduce the risk long term.