In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.

Understanding Heart Risk Factors

When it comes to preventing heart disease there are some factors you can change (known as modifiable risk factors), and some you can't.

Risk factors you can’t change are:

  • A family history of the disease
  • Increasing age
  • Your gender (heart disease affects men earlier than women)
  • If you have type 1 diabetes (juvenile onset or insulin dependent).

Risk factors you can change are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Waist circumference
  • Pattern of eating
  • Your exposure to and response to stress.

Your risk of coronary artery disease and related conditions such as angina, heart attack and stroke are more closely related to your total or ‘absolute’ risk rather than any single factor like cholesterol or blood pressure. You see, risks don’t add up, they multiply each other. So, when you just look at a single risk factor individually, you might have little concern.

However, having mildly raised blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a waist circumference greater than recommended along with a habit of smoking can be a deadly combination. The specific combination of high blood pressure and cigarette smoking, for instance, increases your risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease by seven times!

Your doctor can help you work out your absolute risk score – a calculation of your total risk from a combination of risk factors – which in turn can help you decide on the balance of lifestyle improvements and medications you might need to return your risk to lower levels.

Modifying your lifestyle to reduce your risk factors can be the most effective way of improving your health outcome for the rest of your life and minimizing the effect of coronary artery disease.


Next: Cholesterol

Last published 31 October 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

doctor at work

Contact us

134 135
From within Australia

+61 3 9487 6400
From outside Australia

Opening hours
Customer service:
8am - 8pm Mon - Fri EST
8am - 8pm Mon - Fri EST
9am - 1pm Sat EST

Alternatively you can: