Risk Factors

Everyone is at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke, but some people are at higher risk than others.

There are some risk factors that can be changed or controlled such as blood pressure, physical activity and salt intake. Visit the Prevention section for more information on these and other controllable or modifiable risk factors.

Some risk factors that cannot be changed, controlled, or modified:


Heart disease, heart attack and stroke can happen at any age. An individual’s risk increases with age. There are increasing numbers of individuals younger than 55 that are having heart attacks and strokes.

Family History

The risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke may be higher if a family member (parent, grandparent or sibling) has had a heart attack or stroke. There are certain genetic conditions that can increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke.


Men and women share many of the same risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. However, men and women may experience them differently:

Geographic Location

North Carolina is in the Stroke Belt, an 11-state region that historically has had substantially higher stroke death rates than the rest of the nation. The eastern counties of NC are part of the “Buckle” of the Stroke Belt (the coastal plains of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina) where stroke risk is two to three times greater than the national average.

History of Heart Disease

A person is at greater risk of a heart attack and stroke if there is a history of heart disease. This risk also increases if a person has high blood pressure, has high cholesterol, has diabetes, is overweight, is inactive, smokes, or drinks more than one drink (women) or two drinks (men) every day.

Previous Stroke

Your greatest risk for stroke is having had one. Prevent a second stroke by controlling high blood pressure, avoiding tobacco, eating a healthy diet and being physically active. 

Previous Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A TIA is a warning sign that an ischemic stroke could occur. Please visit the section on Stroke as well as other online resources to learn more about TIAs.

Race and Ethnicity

African-Americans have the greatest risk of high blood pressure which increases the overall risk of heart disease and stroke. Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders also have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than whites.