General Risk Factors

High Blood Pressure

Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease around the world. Hypertension is more common among women than men, particularly among women over the age of 60, and is strongly associated with stroke and heart disease. There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it’s important to check your blood pressure regularly.

Eating a diet low in salt and rich in fruits and vegetables can keep blood pressure down, while regular exercise helps you manage your weight, cope with stress and boost your “good” cholesterol, all of which helps to keep your blood pressure on target. Reducing alcohol consumption is also important for reducing high blood pressure


High blood sugar, like high blood pressure, can thicken the arteries and lead to obstructions. Having diabetes more than triples a woman’s risk of heart attack and greatly increases the chances a heart attack will be fatal, making it more dangerous for women than for men. Type 2 diabetes also leads to a greater risk for cardiovascular complications in women than in men and is a strong risk factor for heart failure. Women account for more than half of the cases of diabetes in the world. It’s important to be physically active and eat a healthy diet to avoid developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, learning to manage it properly can help you reduce your risk of heart disease.


Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat that circulates in your blood. Too much of it can lead to blockages in the arteries. High levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol are strongly linked to heart disease. Cholesterol levels generally are lower in younger women than younger men, but above the age of 65 they are much higher in women. If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication, changes to your diet and exercise.

Family History

If a close female relative has had a heart attack before the age of 65, you are at significantly higher risk of developing heart disease. If a close male relative has had some form of heart disease before 55, the same holds true. Be sure to tell your doctor if there is a history of heart disease in the family.


Heart disease is more common among women of First Nations, African and Asian descent than the general population. These women generally have higher rates of key risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, while having lower levels of awareness of the dangers of heart disease and how to prevent it. They also tend to experience more social and economic risk factors, including low income and education levels.