Start With Your Heart

Everyone is at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke, but some people are at higher risk than others. It is important to know the risks!

There are some risk factors that can be changed or controlled such as blood pressure, physical activity and salt intake. Visit the Prevention Section of our website for more information on these and other controllable/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 is an increasing number 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, the experience for men and women may be different:

  • Men often have heart attacks and strokes earlier in life than women.
  • Women are more likely to have a stroke than men. Women are more likely to die from a stroke.
  • Sometimes women have different signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • It may take longer to diagnose a heart attack, other cardiac event or stroke in women.
  • Women’s risk is also influenced by pregnancy, childbirth, reproductive health and hormonal changes.
  • Women’s risk increases during pregnancy and continues through the first three months after childbirth. Women who experience preeclampsia during pregnancy may have a higher lifetime risk of stroke.

Geographic Location

North Carolina is located in the “Stroke Belt,” an eight- to 12- 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), which has had the highest stroke death rates in the nation for at least the past 30 years.

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

A previous stroke can put a person at greater risk for another stroke.

Previous Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

This is a warning sign that an ischemic stroke could occur. Please visit our 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, and that 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 Caucasians.