Risk factor

What Is a Medical Risk Factor?

A risk factor is defined as something that increases the risk or propensity towards developing a disease, condition, or injury. Wellbeing linked to poor health, disease, disability, or death can be affected by several different risk factors.


There are typically 5 different types of risk factors. These include:

Physiological: Physiological risk factors are those associated with a person’s biology, lifestyle, and other determinates. Physiological risk factors can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Obesity

Behavioural: Behavioural risk factors typically correlate with an action a person decides to take. Behavioural risk factors can include:

  • Dietary choices
  • Physical inactivity
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or doing drugs
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Engaging in unprotected sex

Environmental: Environmental risk factors include factors such as social, economic, cultural, and political environments. Environmental risk factors can include:

  • Air pollution
  • Access to clean drinking water
  • Various social settings
  • Poverty

Demographic: Demographic risk factors are those that relate to a specific demographic, or population. Demographic risk factors can include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Occupation
  • Religion

Genetic: Genetic risk factors are those based upon a person’s genetic predisposition. There are countless diseases that occur because of an individual’s genes, including conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. Genetics may also play a role in a person’s propensity towards developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, especially when combined with various environmental risk factors.

Common Risk Factors Associated with Mortality

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined the following 10 risk factors to be the leading causes for global mortality rates:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tobacco use
  • High blood glucose levels
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Unprotected sex
  • Alcohol use and abuse
  • Childhood underweight or malnutrition
  • Indoor smoke from solid fuels

Risk Factors FAQ

What is a behavioural risk factor?

A behavioural risk factor is defined as a behaviour that has a significant influence on a person’s health and wellbeing. Common behavioural risk factors can include: alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, diet and physical inactivity, and sexual practices.

What are common risk factors for disease?

Some risk factors for chronic disease include: high cholesterol levels, excessive alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, diet, physical inactivity, hypertension, and genetic predisposition.

What are the major risk factors in developing cardiovascular disease?

There are several risk factors associated with the development of heart disease. Risk factors that are out of a person’s control can include: genetics, age, post-menopause, and a family history or cardiovascular problems. Risk factors that can lead to heart disease that can be controlled include: diabetes, smoking cigarettes, high cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, and stress.

What are the risk factors for addiction?

Risk factors associated with addiction can include: genetic predisposition, stress, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, and certain brain characteristics. Environmental influences such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, trauma, neglect, substance abuse amongst family members, and access to addictive substances can all attribute to developing an addiction. While these risk factors do not mean a person will become an addict, they do put them at a higher propensity for developing an addiction at some point of their life.

External Links

Risk factors, World Health Organization

Risk Factors for Heart Disease, WebMD

Risk factors in health and disease, European Patients’ Academy

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