Some medical conditions increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, but you can manage them with medication, treatment and by making healthy choices.  The more risk factors you have the greater your risk.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) affects one in five Canadians. It is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease, so it is very important that it is properly controlled. High blood pressure is often called a "silent killer" because it has no warning signs or symptoms. Learn how to manage high blood pressure.


High blood cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart disease.  As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of heart disease. Cholesterol can also lead to a buildup of plaque in the artery walls (atherosclerosis).  The plaque makes it harder for blood to flow through your body, putting you at an increased risk of stroke. Learn more about cholesterol.


Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), coronary heart disease and stroke, especially if your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. Diabetes can cause circulatory problems by damaging the blood vessels. Learn how to manage diabetes.


Women who have had preeclampsia during pregnancy have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke later in life.  Learn more about women’s unique risk factors


Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is an irregular heart rhythm.  It can cause small clots to form in your heart and travel to your brain.  It increases your risk of ischemic stroke by three to five times.  Learn how to manage atrial fibrillation.

One of the challenges with atrial fibrillation is it’s hard to detect. In some people, it comes and goes.
Dr. Jodi Edwards
Heart & Stroke researcher
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Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that can cause your breathing to stop and start many times while you sleep.  There is a strong link between sleep apnea and high blood pressure and stroke.  Even short pauses in breathing while you sleep are hard on the heart because they lower the amount of oxygen reaching the heart.

Vascular cognitive impairment

VCI is a disorder of the mind that may be caused by blood vessel wall disease or tiny clots that block small vessels in the brain. Symptoms range from forgetfulness to more serious problems. Anyone can be affected, but the risk increases if you have a history of heart disease or stroke. The relationships between VCI, stroke and heart disease are deep and complex, and need more research. Learn more about VCI.

Related information 

Learn about other risk factors for heart disease.

Learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.  


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