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Heart Health and Stroke

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Heart disease risk factors you can't control

person having their blood pressure taken

You can't control these risk factors. But knowing what they are can help you understand your overall risk for heart disease.


Women usually develop heart disease about 10 to 15 years later than men. This is because until menopause, the ovaries produce estrogen. Estrogen protects women against plaque buildup. But at menopause the ovaries stop making estrogen, and your risk goes up. By age 70, women have about the same risk for heart disease as same-aged men. Menopause isn't the only reason getting older is a risk factor. As people age, arteries get stiffer and thicker. Also, systolic blood pressure (the top number) often goes up. These changes contribute to plaque buildup in artery walls.

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Family history of early heart disease

Women with a father or brother who developed heart disease before age 55 are at higher risk. Women with a mother or sister who developed heart disease before age 65 are also at higher risk. However, young women with a family history may not be aware of this risk. So, they may be less careful about living a heart-healthy lifestyle than men with a family history.

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Race and ethnicity

As a group, African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure. Research also suggests that racial and ethnic minorities are generally more likely to develop heart disease. The reasons for this greater risk are unclear.

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More information on Heart disease risk factors you can't control

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Heart Disease Fact Sheet - This fact sheet on women and heart disease includes information about risk factors, prevention, and treatment of heart disease.

Explore other publications and websites

  • Aging and Heart Disease (Copyright © HeartHealthyWomen.org) - This fact sheet answers some common questions about heart disease and explains how advancing in age can affect your risk.
  • Heart Disease in Women - This fact sheet lists the most common signs of heart disease and provides women with tips to lower their risk of heart disease and stay healthy.
  • Young at Heart: Tips for Older Americans - Older Americans have a higher risk of developing heart disease than young Americans. This publication provides older Americans with tips to healthier eating and staying physically active to maintain a healthy weight and heart.

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Content last updated: February 01, 2009.

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