Risk factors

Knowing your risks is the first step to avoiding a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians, but it can mostly be prevented. 

There’s no one cause for heart disease, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. The more risk factors you have, the bigger your risk is of a heart attack or stroke.

You might not know you have some of these risk factors. The best way to find out your overall risk is to see your doctor or health practitioner for a heart health check

If you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke, read more about looking after yourself to avoid another.

Risks you can’t change

There are a few risks you can’t do much about:

  • Age: As you get older, your risk of heart disease increases.
  • Gender: Men are at higher risk of heart disease. Women’s risk grows and may be equal to men after menopause.
  • Ethnic background: People of some origins (e.g. from the Indian sub-continent) have higher risk. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have more risk because of lifestyle factors.
  • Family history: If someone in your family has had a heart attack, speak to your doctor or health practitioner about your risk.

Risks you can change

Most heart disease risk factors can be changed, and there’s plenty you can do about them.

Risk factors

Smoking 

Being smoke free is one of the best ways to protect your heart. If you are a smoker, you should stop. Read about smoking and your heart.

High cholesterol

An imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Find out more about blood cholesterol and how to manage it.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure isn’t usually something you can feel. If it’s too high, it needs to be treated. Read about blood pressure  and what you can do to control high blood pressure 

Diabetes

It’s important to manage your diabetes to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. For information on managing diabetes, visit the Diabetes Australia website

Being inactive

Not getting enough physical activity and sitting too much isn’t good for your heart health. Find out what you can do to be more active.

Being overweight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease and other health problems. The best thing you can do is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Unhealthy diet

Eating a varied diet of healthy foods can help with your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Find out more about healthy eating

Depression, social isolation and lack of quality support

We know that there can be a greater risk of heart disease for people who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social support. Having a good social life with family and friends can help. Depression is more than feeling sad or low. If you feel depressed for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor, a family member or someone you know well. 

For more information about depression, visit the beyondblue website.

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