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heart month - risk factors

Know Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Risk: Smoking

  • Stop smoking, avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Ask your doctor if nicotine replacement or other medicines are right for you.
  • Join a smoking cessation program.

Risk: High blood pressure (hypertension)

The blood pressure chart below reflects categories defined by the American Heart Association.

Blood pressure category Systolic   Diastolic Yale New Haven Health Recommednations
Normal < 120 and < 80  
Elevated 120 - 129 and < 80 Continue healthy lifestyle.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1 130 - 139 or 80 - 89 Follow up with your doctor to assess your risk. You may need medication.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2 ≥ 140 or ≥ 90 Work on healthy lifestyle and follow up with your doctor to discuss medication.
Hypertensive Crisis (Emergency care needed) > 180 or > 120 Please go to an urgent care center or emergency department immediately.

To lower your BP, lose weight, exercise regularly, avoid eating foods high in sodium (salt) and take medications as prescribed.

Risk: High cholesterol

To reach your goal cholesterol levels, follow a low-fat diet, exercise regularly and take medicines as prescribed.

Regarding recommended cholesterol levels, current American Heart Association guidelines reference one’s overall risk assessment. View the AHA cardiac risk factor calculator.

Risk: Diabetes

A diagnosis of pre-diabetes is made if Hemoglobin A1c (HgA1C) is between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. Diabetes is diagnosed if HgA1C is greater than 6.4 percent. Target for fasting glucose is <100 mg/dL.

  • To maintain blood glucose levels in an acceptable range, take medicines as directed, follow your special diet and get regular exercise.
  • Talk to a diabetes educator.
  • Keep a diary of your blood glucose levels. Report to your doctor values outside of the prescribed range.

Risk: Overweight

Goal is a <25 body mass index (BMI) and for women a less than 35-inch waist circumference and for men a less than 40-inch waist circumference.

  • To lose weight follow a healthy diet and increase your activity level.

Risk: Lack of exercise

Exercise frequently. This can include taking brisk walks, using stairs or gardening.


Cardiac risk factors that cannot be changed include age and family history of coronary artery disease. Additional heart disease risk factors for women include menopause, complicated pregnancies (e.g., pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes) and a history of autoimmune disease.