Common Risks for Heart Disease
Rohit Sehgal, MD
Specialty: Cardiology, Interventional Cardiology
While there’s no one cause of heart disease, there are some factors
that can increase your risk for developing it. Read below to learn more.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a broad term that refers to any malady of the heart or
blood vessels, including hypertension, arrhythmia and atherosclerosis.
The breadth of conditions it covers as well as the severity of any condition
involving the cardiovascular system make heart disease the leading cause
of death in the developing world.
High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure guidelines (2017) indicate that blood pressure above 120/80
is considered high and increases the risk for adverse cardiovascular events.
High blood pressure can strain or damage coronary arteries, causing plaque
(fat, cholesterol and other substances) to build up to the point of slowing
or blocking blood flow.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that your body needs to function properly.
In fact, we tend to divide cholesterol into “good cholesterol”
(HDL) and “bad cholesterol” (LDL). While HDL can actually
help your body get rid of the bad cholesterol, too much LDL can build
up in your arteries, blocking or reducing blood flow to vital organs.
Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body produces or responds
to insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (a sugar) in
the blood. Over time, this excess in blood sugar can damage nerves that
control the heart and blood vessel, as well as the blood vessels themselves.
In addition to the physical stress carrying excess body fat puts on your
body, obesity is also linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol
and diabetes, significant risk factors for heart disease.
Diets high in saturated and trans fats, sodium and cholesterol can put
you at risk for heart disease by exacerbating common risk factors, in
addition to being linked to obesity.
If it seems like a lot of these “things that increase your risk for
x” include bad diet and lack of exercise, it’s because maintaining
a healthy, active lifestyle is your best defense against developing conditions
that cause or complicate other disorders. Regular physical activity, particularly
cardiovascular exercise, can help keep your heart strong, head clear and
body weight down.
You don’t need a doctor to tell you that smoking is bad for you and
the people around you. Not only can it damage your heart and blood vessels,
nicotine raises blood pressure while the smoke itself reduces your blood
While stress itself may not cause heart disease, the effect it has on your
mental and physical health increases your risk. Anxiety and depression
can raise your blood pressure, trigger overeating, make physical activity
difficult or cause you to seek substances like tobacco or alcohol to cope.
While it is clear that there is a genetic component to heart disease, the
exact genes and their transmission has not yet been entirely mapped out.
It has however been clearly shown that several risk factors for heart
disease like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol have a
hereditary component. If you have a family history of heart disease or
a family history of risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol and
high blood pressure, you need to be extra careful about your health and
monitoring all these parameters.
Age, Race, and Other Things You Can’t Control
While some risk factors are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle, others
are beyond your control. Your risk for developing heart disease increases
as you age. It’s a more common cause of death in non-Hispanic whites,
non-Hispanic blacks, and American Indians than it is for Hispanics, Asian
Americans and Pacific Islanders. Complications during pregnancy, such
as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, increases your risk, too.
Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?
It’s important to know that being at an increased risk doesn’t
mean you’ll actually develop heart disease. Many of the effects
of these risks can be reduced with proper management. Speak to your primary
care provider about your particular risks and what you can do to mitigate
them. Or learn more about Washington Hospital’s Heart and Vascular
Programs on the
Washington Hospital website.
Posted February, 2019
About Rohit Sehgal, MD
Rohit Sehgal, MD, is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular
Disease, and Interventional Cardiology. He has been practicing clinical
and interventional cardiology in the East and South Bay for over 20 years.
Dr. Sehgal graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Science,
New Delhi, India and came to the United States to complete his Internal
Medicine Residency at Cook County Hospital in Illinois. Dr. Sehgal then
completed his Internal Medicine residency in Detroit, Michigan, followed
by two fellowship years in Cardiology and Invasive at Northwestern University
in Chicago. He went on to complete a fourth-year fellowship in Interventional
Cardiology in Portland, Oregon. Very active in the Washington Hospital
Healthcare community, Dr. Sehgal currently serves as the Chief of the
Cardiology section at Washington Hospital and is a well-respected member.
He has served as the Chief of Cardiology at St. Rose Hospital and currently
holds an Adjunct Professorship in Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford
University School of Medicine.