Understanding Risk Factors
Part of learning how to take charge of your health requires understanding your risk factors for different diseases.
Risk factors are things in your life that increase your chances of getting a certain disease.
Some risk factors are beyond your control. You may be born with them or exposed to them through no fault of your own.
Some risk factors that you have little or no control over include your:
• Family history of a disease
• Sex/gender — male or female
• Health — having one health problem may raise your risk of having another (for instance, having diabetes increases your chances of getting heart disease)
Some Risk Factors You Can Control Include:
• What you eat
• How much physical activity you get
• Whether you use tobacco
• How much alcohol you drink
• Whether you use illegal drugs
• Whether you use your seat belt
In fact, it has been estimated that almost 35 percent of all U.S. early deaths in 2000 could have been avoided by changing just three behaviors:
• Stopping smoking
• Eating a healthy diet (for example, eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat)
• Getting more physical activity
Having More Than One Risk Factor
You can have one risk factor for a disease or you can have many.
The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to get the disease.
For example, if you eat healthy, exercise on a regular basis, and control your blood pressure, your chances of getting heart disease are less than if you are diabetic, a smoker, and inactive.
To lower your risks, take small steps toward engaging in a healthy lifestyle, and you’ll see big rewards.
Inheriting Risk — Your Family Health History
Rarely, you can inherit a mutated gene that alone causes you to get a disease.
Genes control chemical reactions in our bodies. If you inherit a faulty gene, your body may not be able to carry out an important chemical reaction.
For instance, a faulty gene may make your blood unable to clot.
This problem is at the root of a rare bleeding disorder.
More often, you can inherit genes from one or both of your parents that put you at higher risk of certain diseases.
But having a gene for a certain disease does not always mean you will get it.
There are many unknown factors that may raise or lower your chances of getting the disease.
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