Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Heart Disease: Assessing Your Risk

Know your risk factors

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among middle-aged and older men and among women over age 60. Risk factors for heart disease include:
Take a moment to look at your lifestyle, family history and general health. With this information, you and your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to tackle potential problems.


Men over age 45 and women over age 55 are at greater risk for heart disease. Although you can't do much about your age, you can affect many of the other risk factors listed below.

Family history

You can't change your family history. So why worry about it? Because it is important for you to know what "runs in the family" and to tell your doctor. Talk to your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles about who has had a heart attack, stroke or other serious health problem. With this information, your doctor can recommend screening tests and preventive treatments as appropriate.


If you don't know your cholesterol level, ask your doctor if it should be checked. To reduce (and prevent) a high cholesterol level, limit how much cholesterol and fat you eat, and exercise regularly. Some people with high cholesterol levels may also need to take medicine to keep their levels under control.

Blood pressure

If your blood pressure is high, losing weight, exercising, not smoking and, in some people, cutting down on sodium (salt) and alcohol will help. Some people may also need to take medicine to control their blood pressure.


Quitting is the single best change you can make for your health. Talk to your family doctor about how to quit and stay tobacco-free. If you live with a smoker, breathing their smoke can also affect your health. Encourage the other person to quit.


A diet high in fat and cholesterol has been linked with heart disease (and many other health problems). Fat and cholesterol can harden and clog your arteries. A healthy diet is high in fiber and low in fat. Each day, try to eat:
In addition, use butter, margarine and cooking oils sparingly. You may also need to avoid foods high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Sodium is found in table salt and some prepared foods, especially canned foods.
Although some research suggests alcohol can help protect against heart disease, moderation is the key. Limit how much you drink. This means no more than one or two drinks a day.


Being overweight puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. A high-fiber, low-fat diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight gradually and keep it off. Talk to your doctor about safe ways to lose weight.


Exercise can help prevent heart disease and many other health problems. You'll also feel better and help keep your weight under control if you exercise regularly. If you haven't exercised for a while or have health problems, talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. How much should you exercise? Four to six times a week is a good goal, but any amount is better than none.

Other health problems

Health problems such as diabetes can contribute to heart disease. Talk to your family doctor for individual advice.