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Top 5 Risk Factors for Heart Disease

A gambling man might want to keep his eye on his heart(s).

Jan Cobb Photography Ltd/Getty Images

If you're the gambling sort, here's a safe bet -- you're going to die from heart disease. It's the No. 1 killer in the United States, and it causes almost three out of every 10 deaths each year, more than any other single cause [source: CDC].

"Heart disease" is an umbrella term for a number of heart conditions. One of these conditions is coronary artery disease, excessive plaque buildup in the arteries that deliver oxygenated blood to your heart tissues. When these arteries get too narrow or clogged up, your heart doesn't get the fuel it needs to do its job. This condition may lead to angina, a feeling of tightness in the chest, and eventually result in heart attack.

Heart failure is also a form of heart disease. Heart failure implies that your heart suddenly stops beating, but that's not the case -- it refers to the diminished capacity of a damaged ticker. Heart failure often leaves you feeling exhausted or breathless, because your heart is having trouble delivering enough blood -- and the oxygen in that blood -- to every part of your body.­

Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) is also considered a form of heart disease. A diseased heart may begin to flutter or race and, in extreme cases, can prevent blood from properly moving through the heart's chambers.

One way doctors predict your likelihood of getting these conditions is through a little equation called the Framingham formula, which takes a bunch of risk factors and calculates how likely you are to get coronary heart disease. The problem is that the Framingham formula is pretty complex. So to make it easy for you, we're going to focus on five risk factors in this article.

First, we'll talk about the factor we all like to blame when we look at our oversized feet or our untamed eyebrows: genetics.

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