“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn
HEALTH AND NUTRITION TOPIC LINKS
Cold Versus Flu
Questions & Answers
What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have very serious associated complications.
How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?
Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.
What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.
Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences
Obesity is a complex health issue to address. Obesity results from a combination of causes and contributing factors, including individual factors such as behavior and genetics. Behaviors can include dietary patterns, physical activity, inactivity, medication use, and other exposures. Additional contributing factors in our society include the food and physical activity environment, education and skills, and food marketing and promotion.
Obesity is a serious concern because it is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, reduced quality of life, and the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Healthy behaviors include a healthy diet pattern and regular physical activity. Energy balance of the number of calories consumed from foods and beverages with the number of calories the body uses for activity plays a role in preventing excess weight gain.1,2 A healthy diet pattern follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which emphasizes eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat and fat-free dairy products and drinking water. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, or a combination of both, along with 2 days of strength training per week.
Having a healthy diet pattern and regular physical activity is also important for long term health benefits and prevention of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
For more, see Healthy Weight – Finding a Balance.
People and families may make decisions based on their environment or community. For example, a person may choose not to walk or bike to the store or to work because of a lack of sidewalks or safe bike trails. Community, home, child care, school, health care, and workplace settings can all influence people's daily behaviors. Therefore, it is important to create environments in these locations that make it easier to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet.
Watch The Obesity Epidemic to learn about the many community environmental factors that have contributed to the obesity epidemic, as well as several community initiatives taking place to prevent and reduce obesity.
Strategies to create a healthy environment are listed on the Strategies to Prevent Obesity page. More specifically, strategies to create a healthy school environment are listed on the CDC Adolescent and School Health website.
Do Genes Have a Role in Obesity?
Genetic changes in human populations occur too slowly to be responsible for the obesity epidemic. Nevertheless, the variation in how people respond to the environment that promotes physical inactivity and intake of high-calorie foods suggests that genes do play a role in the development of obesity.
How Could Genes Influence Obesity?
Genes give the body instructions for responding to changes in its environment. Studies have identified variants in several genes that may contribute to obesity by increasing hunger and food intake.
Rarely, a clear pattern of inherited obesity within a family is caused by a specific variant of a single gene (monogenic obesity). Most obesity, however, probably results from complex interactions among multiple genes and environmental factors that remain poorly understood (multifactorial obesity).3,4
What about Family History?
Health care practitioners routinely collect family health history to help identify people at high risk of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some forms of cancer. Family health history reflects the effects of shared genetics and environment among close relatives. Families can’t change their genes but they can change the family environment to encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity. Those changes can improve the health of family members—and improve the family health history of the next generation.3,4
Learn more about genetics and obesity here: Obesity and Genomics.
Other Factors: Diseases and Drugs
Some illnesses may lead to obesity or weight gain. These may include Cushing's disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants may also cause weight gain. The science continues to emerge on the role of other factors in energy balance and weight gain such as chemical exposures and the role of the microbiome.
A health care provider can help you learn more about your health habits and history in order to tell you whether behaviors, illnesses, medications, and/or psychological factors are contributing to weight gain or making weight loss hard.
Consequences of obesity
People who are obese, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including the following:5,6,7
- All-causes of death (mortality)
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems
- Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
- Low quality of life
- Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders8,9
- Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning10
For more information about these and other health problems associated with obesity, visit Health Effects of Obesity.
For more information about these and other health problems associated with overweight and obesity, visit Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults[PDF 56KB].
Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences
Childhood obesity is a complex health issue. It occurs when a child is well above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height. The main causes of excess weight in youth are similar to those in adults, including individual causes such as behavior and genetics. Behaviors can include dietary patterns, physical activity, inactivity, medication use, and other exposures. Additional contributing factors in our society include the food and physical activity environment, education and skills, and food marketing and promotion.
Healthy behaviors include a healthy diet pattern and regular physical activity. Energy balance of the number of calories consumed from foods and beverages with the number of calories the body uses for activity plays a role in preventing excess weight gain.1,2 A healthy diet pattern follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which emphasizes eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat and fat-free dairy products and drinking water. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends children do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Having a healthy diet pattern and regular physical activity is also important for long term health benefits and prevention of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
For more, see Healthy Weight – Finding a Balance.
American society has become characterized by environments that promote increased consumption of less healthy food and physical inactivity. It can be difficult for children to make healthy food choices and get enough physical activity when they are exposed to environments in their home, child care center, school, or community that are influenced by–
- Advertising of less healthy foods.
Nearly half of U.S. middle and high schools allow advertising of less healthy foods,3 which impacts students' ability to make healthy food choices. In addition, foods high in total calories, sugars, salt, and fat, and low in nutrients are highly advertised and marketed through media targeted to children and adolescents,10 while advertising for healthier foods is almost nonexistent in comparison.
- Variation in licensure regulations among child care centers.
More than 12 million children regularly spend time in child care arrangements outside the home.11 However, not all states use licensing regulations to ensure that child care facilities encourage more healthful eating and physical activity.12
- No safe and appealing place, in many communities, to play or be active.
Many communities are built in ways that make it difficult or unsafe to be physically active. For some families, getting to parks and recreation centers may be difficult, and public transportation may not be available. For many children, safe routes for walking or biking to school or play may not exist. Half of the children in the United States do not have a park, community center, and sidewalk in their neighborhood. Only 27 states have policies directing community-scale design.13
- Limited access to healthy affordable foods.
Some people have less access to stores and supermarkets that sell healthy, affordable food such as fruits and vegetables, especially in rural, minority, and lower-income neighborhoods.14 Supermarket access is associated with a reduced risk for obesity.14 Choosing healthy foods is difficult for parents who live in areas with an overabundance of food retailers that tend to sell less healthy food, such as convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
- Greater availability of high-energy-dense foods and sugar sweetened beverages.
High-energy-dense foods are ones that have a lot of calories in each bite. A recent study among children showed that a high-energy-dense diet is associated with a higher risk for excess body fat during childhood.15,16 Sugar sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar and an important contributor of calories in the diets of children in the United States.17 High consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, which have few, if any, nutrients, has been associated with obesity.18 On a typical day, 80% of youth drink sugar sweetened beverages.19
- Increasing portion sizes.
Portion sizes of less healthy foods and beverages have increased over time in restaurants, grocery stores, and vending machines. Research shows that children eat more without realizing it if they are served larger portions.20,21 This can mean they are consuming a lot of extra calories, especially when eating high-calorie foods.
- Lack of breastfeeding support.
Breastfeeding protects against childhood overweight and obesity.22,23 However, in the United States, while 75% of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of 6 months. The success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be improved through active support from their families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers, and policymakers.
Consequences of obesity
Health risks now
- Obesity during childhood can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Children who are obese have a greater risk of –
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.24
- Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.25
- Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, and asthma.26,27
- Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.26,28
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).25,26
- Psychological stress such as depression, behavioral problems, and issues in school.29,30,31
- Low self-esteem and low self-reported quality of life.29,31,32,33
- Impaired social, physical, and emotional functioning.29
Health risks later
- Children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults.34,35 Adult obesity is associated with a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancer.35,36
- If children are obese, obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe.34,35.37
Basics About Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.
Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
For more information, see the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse publication, Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
What are the symptoms of diabetes? collapsed
People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme hunger
- Sudden vision changes
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Feeling very tired much of the time
- Very dry skin
- Sores that are slow to heal
- More infections than usual.
Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these symptoms in the abrupt onset of insulin-dependent diabetes, now called type 1 diabetes.
What are the types of diabetes? collapsed
Type 1 diabetes, which was previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes, may account for about 5% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes, may account for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only pregnant women get. If not treated, it can cause problems for mothers and babies. Gestational diabetes develops in 2% to 10% of all pregnancies but usually disappears when a pregnancy is over. Other specific types of diabetes resulting from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses may account for 1% to 5% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
What are the risk factors for diabetes? collapsed
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in developing this type of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and people with a family history of diabetes than in other groups. Obesity is also associated with higher risk. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35% to 60% chance of developing diabetes in the next 10–20 years.
Other specific types of diabetes, which may account for 1% to 5% of all diagnosed cases, result from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses.
What is the treatment for diabetes? collapsed
Healthy eating, physical activity, and insulin injections are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. The amount of insulin taken must be balanced with food intake and daily activities. Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose testing.
Healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic therapies for type 2 diabetes. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.
People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care, and keep blood glucose levels from going too low or too high.
People with diabetes should see a health care provider who will monitor their diabetes control and help them learn to manage their diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes may see endocrinologists, who may specialize in diabetes care; ophthalmologists for eye examinations; podiatrists for routine foot care; and dietitians and diabetes educators who teach the skills needed for daily diabetes management.
The Diabetes Overview fact sheet from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse has additional information.
What causes type 1 diabetes? collapsed
The causes of type 1 diabetes appear to be much different than those for type 2 diabetes, though the exact mechanisms for developing both diseases are unknown. The appearance of type 1 diabetes is suspected to follow exposure to an "environmental trigger," such as an unidentified virus, stimulating an immune attack against the beta cells of the pancreas (that produce insulin) in some genetically predisposed people.
For more information about the immune system, visit these pages from The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Web site:
Can diabetes be prevented? collapsed
Researchers are making progress in identifying the exact genetics and "triggers" that predispose some individuals to develop type 1 diabetes, but prevention remains elusive.
A number of studies have shown that regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity.
See the Preventing Diabetes section for more information.
Building on this research, CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program supports establishing a network of community-based, group lifestyle intervention programs for overweight or obese people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. As of early 2011, it was anticipated that 33 U.S. sites will offer group lifestyle interventions in 2011, with plans to expand to other communities.
Is there a cure for diabetes? collapsed
In response to the growing health burden of diabetes, the diabetes community has three choices: prevent diabetes; cure diabetes; and improve the quality of care of people with diabetes to prevent devastating complications. All three approaches are actively being pursued by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are involved in prevention activities. The NIH is involved in research to cure both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, especially type 1. CDC focuses most of its programs on making sure that the proven science to prevent complications is put into daily practice for people with diabetes. The basic idea is that if all the important research and science are not applied meaningfully in the daily lives of people with diabetes, then the research is, in essence, wasted.
Several approaches to "cure" diabetes are currently under investigation:
- Pancreas transplantation
- Islet cell transplantation (islet cells produce insulin)
- Artificial pancreas development
- Genetic manipulation (fat or muscle cells that don’t normally make insulin have a human insulin gene inserted — then these "pseudo" islet cells are transplanted into people with type 1 diabetes).
Each of these approaches still has a lot of challenges, such as preventing immune rejection; finding an adequate number of insulin cells; keeping cells alive; and others. But progress is being made in all areas. For more information, see the Diabetes Care article.
About Heart Disease
The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart and can cause a heart attack.
The term "heart disease" refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease is caused by plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits. Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. You and your health care team may be able to help you reduce your risk for CAD.
Causes of CAD
CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries) and other parts of the body. Plaque is made up of deposits of cholesterol and other substances in the artery. Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time, which could partially or totally block the blood flow. This process is called atherosclerosis.
Too much plaque buildup and narrowed artery walls can make it harder for blood to flow through your body. When your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood, you may have chest pain or discomfort, called angina. Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can’t pump blood the way that it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, also can develop.
To find out your risk for CAD, your health care team may measure your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Being overweight, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and smoking tobacco are risk factors for CAD. A family history of heart disease also increases your risk for CAD. If you’re at high risk for heart disease or already have symptoms, your doctor can use several tests to diagnose CAD.
TestWhat it Does
ECD or EKG (electrocardiogram)Measures the electrical activity, rate, and regularity of your heartbeat.
EchocardiogramUses ultrasound (special sound wave) to create a picture of the heart.
Exercise stress testMeasures your heart rate while you walk on a treadmill. This helps to determine how well your heart is working when it has to pump more blood.
Chest X-rayUses x-rays to create a picture of the heart, lungs, and other organs in the chest.
Cardiac catheterizationChecks the inside of your arteries for blockage by inserting a thin, flexible tube through an artery in the groin, arm, or neck to reach the heart. Health care professionals can measure blood pressure within the heart and the strength of blood flow through the heart’s chambers as well as collect blood samples from the heart or inject dye into the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries).
Coronary angiogramMonitors blockage and flow of blood through the coronary arteries. Uses X-rays to detect dye injected via cardiac catheterization.
Reducing Your Risk for CAD
If you have CAD, your health care team may suggest the following steps to help lower your risk for heart attack or worsening heart disease:
- Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier (lower sodium, lower fat) diet, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking.
- Medications to treat the risk factors for CAD, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, and low blood flow.
- Surgical procedures to help restore blood flow to the heart.
A heart attack occurs when a part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies because blood flow is reduced or completely blocked.
Every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.1
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood flow. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these cases
- 525,000 are a first heart attack.
- 210,000 happen to people who have already had a first heart attack.1
One of 5 heart attacks is silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.1 Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle. If you know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and recognize that you or someone near you is having a heart attack, seek immediate treatment by calling 9-1-1. The longer you wait, the more damage to the heart muscle can occur.
Learn more about what you can do to prevent a future heart attack.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
Smoking is a key risk factor for heart disease.
Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans (47%) have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.1
Some of the risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Learn more about heart disease risk factors:
Conditions that Increase Risk for Heart Disease
High blood pressure is major risk factor for heart disease. It is a condition that occurs when the pressure of the blood in the arteries is too high.
Several medical conditions can increase your risk for heart disease. If you have one of these conditions, you can take steps to control it and lower your risk.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is a medical condition that occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because many people do not notice symptoms to signal high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle or by medication can reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Some cholesterol is “good,” and some is “bad.” High cholesterol is the term used for high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which are considered “bad” because they can lead to heart disease. A higher level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL, is considered “good” because it provides some protection against heart disease.
A blood test can detect the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood.
Diabetes mellitus also increases the risk for heart disease. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. The risk of death from heart disease for adults with diabetes is two to four times higher than adults who do not have diabetes.1 Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.
- CDC. National diabetes fact sheet: national estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States, 2011[PDF- 2.6 MB]. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, 2011.
Heart Disease Behavior
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and related conditions. Make a heart-healthy choice.
Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle. The good news is that healthy behaviors can lower your risk for heart disease.
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and related conditions, such as atherosclerosis. Also, too much salt (sodium) in the diet can raise blood pressure levels.
Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease. It also can increase the chances of having other medical conditions that are risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular physical activity can lower your risk for heart disease.
Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to heart disease, obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. Talk to your health care team about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level.
Too Much Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, which can harden your arteries.
- Women should have no more than 1 drink a day.
- Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day.
Tobacco use increases the risk for heart disease and heart attack. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart attack. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Exposure to other people’s secondhand smoke can increase the risk for heart disease even for nonsmokers.
Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for Heart Disease
Heart disease can run in your family.
Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. Heart disease can run in a family, and your risk for heart disease can increase based on your age, and your race, or ethnicity.
Genetics and Family History
When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.
Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.
The risk for heart disease can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes and eating an unhealthy diet.
Find out more about genetics and disease on CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics web site.
Both men and women can have heart disease. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age, sex, and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for heart disease.
- Age. Your risk for heart disease increases as you get older.
- Sex. Heart disease was the number one killer of both men and women in 2013.1
- Race or ethnicity. In 2013 heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States for non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and American Indians. For Hispanics, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.1
Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009[PDF-500K]. Nat Vital Stat Rep. 2011;60(3)
About High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. It comes from two sources:
- It's made by your body and used to do important things, like make hormones and digest fatty foods.
- It's found in many foods, like egg yolks, fatty meats, and regular cheese.
When your body has too much cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. These deposits are called plaque.
As your blood vessels build up plaque deposits over time, the inside of the vessels narrow and allows less blood to flow through to your heart and other organs.
When plaque buildup totally blocks a coronary artery carrying blood to the heart, it causes a heart attack. Another cause of heart attack is when a plaque deposit bursts and releases a clot in a coronary artery.
Angina is caused by plaque partially blocking a coronary artery, reducing blood flow to the heart and causing chest pain.
High Cholesterol Risk Factors
Some risk factors for high cholesterol can’t be controlled, like your age or your family history.
Certain health conditions, your lifestyle, and your family history can increase your risk for high cholesterol. These are called risk factors.
Some of these risk factors can’t be controlled, like your age or your family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk for high cholesterol by changing things you can control.
Conditions That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol
Having diabetes increases your risk for high cholesterol.
Diabetes mellitus increases the risk for high cholesterol.1 Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.
- National Cholesterol Education Program. Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III)[PDF-1M]. NIH Pub. No. 02-5215. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 2002.
Behaviors That Increase Your Risk for High Cholesterol
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for high cholesterol.
Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk for high cholesterol. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle.
The good news is that healthy behaviors can lower your risk for high cholesterol.
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to high cholesterol and related conditions, such as heart disease.
Not getting enough physical activity can make you gain weight, which can lead to high cholesterol.
Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher triglycerides and higher "bad" cholesterol levels, and lower "good" cholesterol levels. In addition to high cholesterol, obesity can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Talk to your health care team about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level.
Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can run in families. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. High cholesterol can run in a family, and your risk for high cholesterol can increase based on your age and your race or ethnicity.
Genetics and Family History
When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.
Genetic factors likely play some role in high cholesterol, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of high cholesterol share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.
If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol. You may need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than people who do not have a family history of high cholesterol.
The risk for high cholesterol can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet.
Some people have an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition causes very high “bad” cholesterol levels beginning at a young age.
Find out more about genetics and disease on CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics website.
Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions present in your family. Family health history is a useful tool for understanding health risks and preventing disease. To help people collect and organize their family history information, CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics collaborated with the U.S. Surgeon General and other federal agencies to develop a Web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait.”
Both men and women can have high cholesterol. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for high cholesterol.
- Age. Because your cholesterol tends to rise as you get older, your risk for high cholesterol increases with age.
- Sex. Levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, rise more quickly for women than for men. However, until around age 55, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men do.1 At any age, men tend to have lower high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, than women do.
- Race or ethnicity. Cholesterol levels vary by race, ethnicity, and sex. The chart below shows the percentages of people with high LDL cholesterol (130 mg/dL or more) in the United States.2 What are the ideal levels of cholesterol?
Racial or Ethnic GroupMen (%)Women (%)
- CDC. Health, United States, 2012. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2013.
- Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, Arnett DK, Blaha MJ, Cushman M, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2015 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014 Dec 17 [Epub ahead of print].
Prevention and Management of High LDL Cholesterol: What You Can Do
Making healthy choices, like eating a healthy diet, can help prevent high cholesterol.
High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. No matter your age, you can take steps each day to keep your cholesterol in a healthy range.
You can help prevent and manage high cholesterol by making healthy choices and by managing any health conditions you may have.
- Practice healthy living habits
- Prevent or treat medical conditions
- Cholesterol-lowering medication
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases. There are more than 100 kinds of cancer. For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s What Is Cancer?
How Can Cancer Be Prevented?
The number of new cancer cases can be reduced and many cancer deaths can be prevented. Research shows that screening for cervical and colorectal cancers as recommended helps prevent these diseases by finding precancerous lesions so they can be treated before they become cancerous. Screening for cervical, colorectal, and breast cancers also helps find these diseases at an early stage, when treatment works best. CDC offers free or low-cost mammograms and Pap tests nationwide, and free or low-cost colorectal cancer screening in six states.
Vaccines (shots) also help lower cancer risk. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other kinds of cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.
A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.
Cancer Screening Tests
Screening means checking your body for cancer before you have symptoms. Getting screening tests regularly may find breast, cervical, and colorectal (colon) cancers early, when treatment is likely to work best. Lung cancer screening is recommended for some people who are at high risk.
Screening for Breast, Cervical, Colorectal (Colon), and Lung Cancers
CDC supports screening for breast, cervical, colorectal (colon), and lung cancers as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. For more information, visit Breast Cancer: What Screening Tests Are There?
The Pap test can find abnormal cells in the cervix which may turn into cancer. Pap tests also can find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is very high. For more information, visit Cervical Cancer: What Should I Know About Screening?
CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers free or low-cost mammograms and Pap tests nationwide. Find out if you qualify.
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best. For more information, visit Colorectal Cancer: What Should I Know About Screening?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for people who have a history of heavy smoking, and smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between 55 and 80 years old. For more information, visit Lung Cancer: What Screening Tests Are There?
Screening for Ovarian, Prostate, and Skin Cancers
Screening for ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers has not been shown to reduce deaths from those cancers.
There is no evidence that any screening test reduces deaths from ovarian cancer. For more information, visit Ovarian Cancer: What Should I Know About Screening?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against prostate specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for men who have no symptoms. For more information, visit Should I Get Screened for Prostate Cancer?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screening (total-body examination by a clinician) to find skin cancers early. This recommendation is for people who do not have a history of skin cancer and who do not have any suspicious moles or other spots. For more information, visit Skin Cancer: What Screening Tests Are There?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for females aged 9 to 26 and males aged 9 to 21. It protects against the HPV types that most often cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancers. The HPV vaccine does not substitute for routine cervical cancer screening (Pap tests), according to recommended screening guidelines. Currently, screening tests for other types of HPV-associated cancers are not recommended.
For information on who should get the HPV vaccination, see HPV Vaccines.
Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It ranges in severity from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks (acute), to a serious long-term (chronic) illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent HBV infection.
You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices like keeping a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and protecting your skin.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers are about 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer. Smoking causes about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.1 2
Visit smokefree.gov to learn how you can quit smoking.
Adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Concentrations of many cancer-causing and toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.3
Protecting Your Skin
Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds appears to be the most important environmental factor involved with developing skin cancer. To help prevent skin cancer while still having fun outdoors, protect yourself by seeking shade, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. For more information, visit What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?
Limiting Alcohol Intake
Drinking alcohol raises the risk of some cancers. Drinking any kind of alcohol can contribute to cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast (in women). The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer.
Studies around the world have shown that drinking alcohol regularly increases the risk of getting mouth, voice box, and throat cancers.
A large number of studies provide strong evidence that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for primary liver cancer, and more than 100 studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake. The link between alcohol consumption and colorectal (colon) cancer has been reported in more than 50 studies.4
For information about alcohol and your health, visit Frequently Asked Questions about Alcohol and Public Health.
Keeping a Healthy Weight
Research has shown that being overweight or obese substantially raises a person’s risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.4 Learn how to choose a healthy diet at Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight, and read about exercise at Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight.
Getting Tested for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, which is most often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common type of viral hepatitis is Hepatitis C. Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer. CDC recommends that anyone who was born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for Hepatitis C.
1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014.
2International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans: Volume 100E: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2012.
3U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General—6 Major Conclusions of the Surgeon General Report. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006.
4Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Altieri A, Cogliano V; WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages.[PDF-58KB] Lancet Oncology 2007;8:292–293.
5National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Obesity Education Initiative. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults.