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Cardiovascular disease risk factors

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The majority of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is caused by risk factors that can be controlled, treated or modified, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, overweight/obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and diabetes. However, there are also some major CVD risk factors that cannot be controlled.

In terms of attributable deaths, the leading CVD risk factor is raised blood pressure (to which 13 per cent of global deaths is attributed), followed by tobacco use (9 per cent), raised blood glucose (6 per cent), physical inactivity (6 per cent) and overweight and obesity (5 per cent).1

Modifiable risk factors: 
(click on each for additional information)

Non-modifiable risk factors

In addition to the modifiable risk factors, there are some risk factors that cannot be changed.  However, people in these high-risk categories should receive regular check-ups. 


  • CVD becomes increasingly common with advancing age. As a person gets older, the heart undergoes subtle physiologic changes, even in the absence of disease.
  • The heart muscle of the aged heart may relax less completely between beats, and as a result, the pumping chambers become stiffer and may work less efficiently.
  • When a condition like CVD affects the heart, these age-related changes may compound the problem or its treatment.


  • A man is at greater risk of heart disease than a pre-menopausal woman. Once past the menopause, a woman’s risk is similar to a man’s.  Risk of stroke, however, is similar for men and women.

Family history

  • A family’s history of CVD indicates a person’s risk. If a first-degree blood relative has had coronary heart disease or stroke before the age of 55 years (for a male relative) or 65 years (for a female relative), the risk increases.


1Global Atlas on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Control. Mendis S, Puska P, Norrving B editors. World Health Organization (in collaboration with the World Heart Federation and World Stroke Organization), Geneva 2011.