What Causes Heart Problems? Major Risk Factors

Heart related diseases are very common and at least one in every ten people suffer from cardiovascular diseases of varying degrees. It is termed as the leading cause of death among adults every year; the second being cancer. As per the statistics from World Health Organization (WHO), around 12 million people die every year owing to heart problems.

Cardiovascular diseases are of different types such as valvular heart disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, rheumatic fever, etc. What causes heart problems are termed as risk factors and as per research, they play a predominant role in developing heart diseases.

Risk Factors

They are categorized into two:

  • Major – Those that have been proven to increase the risk of developing heart diseases
  • Contributing – Factors that can lead to an increase in the risk of developing heart diseases

You are more likely to develop heart disease as the number of risk factors you possess increases. While some of them can be treated or modified, there are some that cannot be treated at all. Such factors can be controlled.

Major Risk Factors

These factors cannot be eliminated completely, but can be minimized through modifications in the lifestyle or through medications. They are controllable and below is a list of such factors:

  • Hypertension
  • Blood Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Age
  • Gender


It is a well-known fact that hypertension or high blood pressure increases your chances of developing stroke, heart attack and other related heart problems. High blood pressure clubbed with obesity and high blood cholesterol levels greatly increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.

Blood Cholesterol

A high blood cholesterol level means a major risk for developing heart disorders. Liver produces cholesterol that is needed by the body for cell membrane formation and hormonal secretion. Food products like meat, dairy products and eggs add to the cholesterol level of your body.

Atherosclerosis is caused by low density lipoprotein, normally referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Under this condition, plaques start forming and build-up along the walls of the arteries. This results in narrowing of the artery, causing reduced blood supply. Coronary arteries developing this condition cause coronary heart diseases.


Many people suffering from diabetes die of heart diseases. This is especially the case with Type II or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type II diabetes is generally a result of sedentary lifestyle clubbed with a diet high in fats and lack of exercises. Therefore, this can be controlled by slight modifications in the lifestyle.


Obesity is the root cause of almost all cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure and diabetes. Obesity naturally tends to put a huge amount of pressure on the walls causing the blood flow to get reduced. Consequently, this increases the blood pressure, thus increasing your chances of developing a heart attack.

Physical Inactivity

Exercising is important since it burns calories, maintains blood pressure and keeps a check on the cholesterol and diabetes. Since exercising burns calories, there are minimum fat deposits in the body. Physical inactivity leads to increase in fat deposition, thus clogging the arteries and increasing the risk of developing a heart attack.


Heart attack, blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases tend to run in the family. Therefore, children whose family have a history of cardiovascular diseases are at a higher risk of developing it than others. Research has shown that certain ethnic and racial groups are more prone to some of the cardiovascular diseases in addition to being passed from generation to generation. For instance, African-¬ Americans are at higher risk of developing heart diseases and high blood pressure than their American counterparts.


People older than 65 years of age are at a higher risk of developing various heart diseases than others and the risk increases with age. This is because, the efficiency of our heart decreases with age causing decreased blood supply to various part of the body. The main reason for this is loss of elasticity of the muscles due to aging.


Generally, men are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than women at younger age. After menopause, however, the difference narrows down. The risk is nearly the same after the age of 65.

Contributing Risk Factors

Contributing risk factors are predominantly habits that we have acquired in our life. Most of these factors can be eliminated. Although they are not proven to directly induce heart diseases, they definitely have some influence on heart problems.

  • Stress
  • Sex Hormones
  • Birth Control Pills
  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Diet


This is considered to be the biggest risk factor for heart diseases. Emotional stress, socioeconomic status and behavioral habits put the heart health at risk. There are several reasons as to why this occurs. One of the reasons is increased blood supply. As the heart rate increases, oxygen supply increases naturally which can cause chest pain among those already suffering from heart diseases.

Another factor contributing to heart attack is that of increased hormonal level. Stress triggers the release of hormones; especially adrenaline. This raises the blood pressure that causes an injury in the artery lining. The healing process causes walls to thicken and forms plaque deposits leading to blockage and reduced blood supply.

Sex Hormones

Women of the age group 40-65 go through menopause, which means an imbalance in the hormonal level. This greatly increases their chances of developing heart attack. Women above 65 are as prone to heart attacks as men of the same age group.

Birth Control Pills

Although they are generally safe, women who smoke and consume alcohol are at higher risk of developing heart problems. This is because birth control pills have a high level of estrogen hormone which if consumed by women suffering from high blood pressure, expose them to the risk of developing heart diseases.

Smoking and Alcohol

Tobacco and alcohol are infamous for the health effects that they bring about. Smoking not only increases your chances of developing lung cancer, but also increases your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases by tenfold. Researchers have found that smoking increases the heart rate, thus creating irregular heartbeats. It also tightens the arteries, thus hampering the blood flow.

All this puts greater amount of pressure on the heart. Apart from this, smoking increases blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of developing a stroke. In addition to nicotine, other chemicals like tar and carbon monoxide found in cigarettes lead to fatty deposits in the arteries, thereby injuring the vessel walls.


It is well-known that foods high in fat content are not good for health. They not only add to the calories, but also increase your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. Such foodstuff are high in triglyceride, which result in secretion of the ‘bad’ cholesterol. This results in increase in the level of cholesterol, thus causing high blood pressure, risk of artery blockage, etc.

The above factors are not responsible for heart problems alone. They are also responsible for a host of other ailments. The need of the hour is to swing into action and prevent heart problems.

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