Atherosclerosis Risk Factors
The atherosclerosis risk factors you can do nothing about include:
- Increasing age. The risk of atherosclerosis increases with age. Men ages 45 and older have increased risk, as do women ages 55 and older. It is thought that female hormones help protect women from atherosclerosis before menopause. After menopause, women have atherosclerosis as often as men do.
- Family history. If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother or sister had one before age 65, you are more likely to get atherosclerosis.
The risk factors for atherosclerosis you can do something about include:
- Physical inactivity. People with inactive lifestyles are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis. Engaging in moderate-level activity for 30 to 60 minutes on most days helps reduce the risk.
- Smoking. People who smoke cigarettes have the greatest risk of atherosclerosis. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to be at an increased risk, but their risk is not as great as cigarette smokers'. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of atherosclerosis even for nonsmokers. Quitting smoking helps reduce the risk.
- Being overweight or obese. People who have too much body fat, especially around the waist, are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis. Women with waist measurements of more than 35 inches have an increased risk, as do men with waist measurements of more than 40 inches. People with body mass index (BMI) values of 25 or higher also are at greater risk for atherosclerosis. Losing weight helps reduce the risk.
- High blood pressure. People who have blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher have an increased risk of atherosclerosis. Lowering blood pressure reduces the risk.
(See Effects of High Blood Pressure for more information.)
- High blood cholesterol. People with total blood cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or higher have an increased risk of atherosclerosis. People with no other atherosclerosis risk factors who have low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) levels of 160 mg/dL or higher have an increased risk. People with heart disease or diabetes, who also have low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) levels of 100 mg/dL or higher, are at an increased risk. People with high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) levels of less than 40 mg/dL may be at an increased risk. Also, people with triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL may have an increased risk for atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes mellitus. People who have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
(Click Diabetes Complications for more information on the problems associated with this condition.)