Important risk factors for medical conditions

Last updated: December 26, 2022

Blood & lymphoreticular systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for hematological conditions
Condition Risk factors
Burkitt lymphoma
Hemolytic anemia
Iron deficiency anemia

Sickle cell disease

  • Both parents carry a sickle cell gene.
  • African, Middle Eastern, or Mediterranean descent

5 Ds mnemonic for risk factors for iron deficiency anemia: Diet (lacking iron and vitamin C, excessive consumption of tea, cow's milk and/or caffeine which blocks iron absorption), Decreased absorption - (due to celiac disease, atrophic gastritis, H. pylori infection), Drugs (aspirin, NSAIDs, PPIs), Donating blood, Drain (GI bleeding, hematuria, menses, pregnancy, lactation).

Nervous system & special sensestoggle arrow icon

Nervous system

Important risk factors for neurological conditions

Condition Risk factors
Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage
Alzheimer disease
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension
Peripheral neuropathy
Stroke (hemorrhagic, ischemic)

For both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, age (≥ 65 years) is the most important nonmodifiable risk factor, and arterial hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor.

To remember the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, think “MEDIAN TRAP”: Myxedema (hypothyroidism), Edema, Diabetes mellitus, Idiopathic, Acromegaly, Neoplasm, Trauma, Rheumatoid arthritis, Amyloidosis, Pregnancy.

Special senses

Important risk factors for ophthalmological conditions

Condition Risk factors
Glaucoma Open-angle glaucoma
Angle-closure glaucoma
Optic neuritis

Skin & subcutaneous tissuetoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for dermatological conditions
Risk factors
Actinic keratosis
  • Cumulative sun exposure
  • Light skin (Fitzpatrick skin type I and II)
  • Age > 50 years
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma
Decubitus ulcers
  • Family or personal history
  • Light skin (Fitzpatrick skin type I and II)
  • UVB light exposure (esp. in childhood)

Cardiovascular systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for cardiovascular conditions
Condition Risk factors
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
Aortic dissection Congenital
Aortic stenosis
Atrial fibrillation
Congestive heart failure
Deep vein thrombosis
Infective endocarditis
Mitral regurgitation
Mitral stenosis

Remember DVT risk factors using the mnemonic “THROMBOSIS”: Travel, Hypercoagulable/HRT, Recreational drugs, Old (> 60), Malignancy, Blood disorders, Obesity/Obstetrics, Surgery/Smoking, Immobilization, Sickness (CHF/MI, IBD, nephrotic syndrome, vasculitis)!

You're a SAD BET with these risk factors for atherosclerosis: Sex (male), Age (advanced), Diabetes mellitus, Blood pressure (high), Elevated cholesterol, and Tobacco.

Respiratory systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for respiratory conditions

Condition Risk factors
Severe COVID-19
Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Obesity BMI ≥ 30
  • Neck circumference > 40 cm
  • Male sex
  • Age > 50 years
Pulmonary embolism Genetic
Tuberculosis Immunocompromised host
Immunocompetent host
  • TB positive household contacts
  • Migration from countries with a high TB incidence
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Close contact with a patient with active TB infection
  • Working in health care

Respiratory neoplasms

Important risk factors for respiratory neoplasms
Condition Risk factors
Lung cancer
Malignant pleural mesothelioma

Smokers exposed to asbestos have a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer than smokers who are unexposed.

Gastrointestinal systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for gastrointestinal conditions

Condition Risk factors
Anal fissure
Budd Chiari syndrome
C. difficile colitis

Crohn disease

  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet, excessive consumption of red meat
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
Infectious gastroenteritis
  • Inadequate hand hygiene (fecal-oral transmission)
  • Consumption of undercooked meat, unpasteurized milk, or contaminated water
  • Direct contact with infected animals or animal products
Hepatic adenoma
Hepatitis B
Hepatitis C
Acute pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis
Peptic ulcer disease

The 6-P risk factors for Budd Chiari syndrome: Polycythemia vera, Paraneoplastic thrombocytosis, Pill (OCPs), Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, Protein C and S deficiency, and Pregnancy

The 6-F risk factors for cholelithiasis: Fat, Female, Fertile, Forty, Fair-skinned, Family history

I GET SMASHED: Idiopathic, Gallstones, Ethanol, Trauma, Steroids, Mumps, Autoimmune, Scorpion poison, Hypercalcemia and hypertriglyceridemia, ERCP, and Drugs are the most common causes of acute pancreatitis.

Think “Cut out the crap!” to remember some risk factors of GERD: C (coffee, cigarettes), R (refined carbohydrates), A (alcohol, acidic food), P (prescription medication).

Gastrointestinal neoplasms

Important risk factors for GI neoplasms


Risk factors


Colorectal cancer

Esophageal cancer

Esophageal adenocarcinoma
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
  • Chronic heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking (es. cigarettes)
  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables

Gastric cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Laryngeal carcinoma
Liver angiosarcoma

Pancreatic cancer

Pharyngeal carcinoma

The 10-C risk factors for Cholangiocarcinoma: Chlonorchis sinensis (liver fluke), Cholangitis, Choledocholithiasis, Chronic viral hepatitis, Cirrhosis, Choledochal cysts, Congenital hepatic fibrosis, Contrast agent, ulcerative Colitis, Cigarettes

Think “HULA” to remember important risk factors of colorectal cancer: Hereditary (e.g., HNPCC, FAP, family history), Ulcerative colitis, Low-fiber diet, Adenomatous polyps.

Think “STOMACH” to remember risk factors of gastric cancer: Smoking and syndromes (e.g., Li Fraumeni, HNPCC), Talcum powder, Obesity, Menetrier disease, Chronic atrophic gastritis, H. pylori infection and high-salt diet.

Renal and urinary systemtoggle arrow icon

Renal and urinary conditions

Important risk factors for renal and urinary conditions

Condition Risk factors
Acute kidney injury
End stage renal disease

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS)


Urinary incontinence


For risk factors of urinary incontinence, think DIAPPERS: Delirium/confusion, Infection, Atrophic urethritis/vaginitis, Pharmaceutical, Psychiatric causes (esp. depression), Excessive urinary output (hyperglycemia, hypercalcemia, CHF), Restricted mobility, Stool impaction.

Think “TONIC” to remember risk factors for acute kidney injury: Tubular necrosis (e.g., due to severe hypovolemia or hypotension), Obstruction (renal artery stenosis), Nephrotoxic drugs, Infection (sepsis), Contrast agent.

Renal and urinary neoplasms

Important risk factors for renal and urinary neoplasms
Condition Risk factors
Bladder cancer
Renal cell carcinoma

Think “Pee Pee SACKS” to remember risk factors of bladder cancer: Predisposition (family history), Phenacetin (banned analgesic), Smoking, Azo dye, Cyclophosphamide, Keep getting infections (recurrent UTIs), Schistosomiasis.

Pregnancy, childbirth & puerperiumtoggle arrow icon


Important risk factors for obstetrical complications

Condition Risk factors
Cervical insufficiency
Ectopic pregnancy
Fetal growth restriction
Fetal macrosomia

Placental abruption

Placenta previa
Postpartum hemorrhage

Uterine inversion

Uterine rupture After cesarean delivery
Unscarred uterus

To remember risk factors of postpartum hemorrhage, think “PARTUM”: Prolonged labor/polyhydramnios/previous C-section, Antepartum hemorrhage, Recent history of bleeding, Twins, Uterine leiomyomas, Multiparity.

Childbirth and puerperium

Important risk factors for childbirth and puerperium complications
Condition Risk factors
Postpartum depression
  • History of antenatal or perinatal depression
  • Excessive postnatal stress
  • Inadequate postnatal financial and social support
Postpartum endometritis
Preterm labor
Shoulder dystocia

Female reproductive system & breasttoggle arrow icon

Gynecological conditions

Important risk factors for gynecological conditions
Condition Risk factors
Intrauterine adhesions (Asherman syndrome)
Gestational trophoblastic disease

Gynecological neoplasms

Important risk factors for gynecological carcinomas

Condition Risk factors
Breast cancer
Cervical cancer HPV-related
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Early-onset sexual activity
  • High-risk sexual partners (e.g., HPV-positive partners)
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • OCP use
  • Smoking (esp. cigarettes)
Endometrial cancer
Ovarian cancer
Uterine leiomyosarcoma
Vulvar and vaginal cancer

Think “ENDOMETRIAL” to remember risk factors of endometrial cancer: Early menarche, Nulliparity, Diabetes, Obesity, Menstrual irregularities, Estrogen monotherapy, Tamoxifen treatment, RR increased (hypertension), Increased androgens (PCOS), Advanced age, Late menopause.

Breast cancer risk can be assessed by “History ALONE”: History (of breast cancer, BRCA1 or 2, HER2/neu mutation), Advanced age/Alcohol, Late menopause, Obesity, Nulliparity, Estrogen exposure (early menarche, HRT after menopause), Ethnicity.

Male reproductive systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for andrological conditions
Condition Risk factors
Erectile dysfunction
Penile cancer
Prostate cancer
Testicular tumors

Endocrine systemtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for endocrinological conditions
Condition Risk factors
Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Hispanic, African, or Asian descent
  • Physical inactivity
  • High-calorie diet
  • Smoking (esp. cigarettes)
Papillary thyroid cancer

Think “SHATTERED family” to remember risk factors of osteoporosis: Steroids, Hyperthyroidism, Alcohol and advanced age, Tobacco, Thin (BMI < 20), Estrogen-depletion (amenorrhea, menopause), Renal or liver failure, Exercise lacking, Diet (low Ca2+ and vitamin D intake, malabsorption)/diabetes mellitus, and positive family history.

Behavioural healthtoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for psychiatric conditions
Conditions Risk factors
Major depressive disorder

Multisystem disorders and processestoggle arrow icon

Important risk factors for multisystem disorders
Conditions Risk factors
  • Unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse (esp. receptive anal intercourse)
  • Multiple sexual partners with unknown HIV status
  • Needle sharing (among individuals who inject drugs)
  • Concurrent STIs (esp. those with ulcerative lesions, such as syphilis and genital herpes)
  • Obesity
  • Joint injury, mechanical overload, and/or malalignment
  • Age > 55 years
  • Female sex
Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Genetic factors: associated with HLA-DR4 and HLA-DR1
  • Smoking (esp. cigarettes)
  • Obesity
Systemic lupus erythematosus

Rheumatoid arthritis: A DRone with 4 propellers and 1 camera:” rheumatoid arthritis is associated with HLA-DR4 and HLA-DR1.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Carson AP, Howard G, Burke GL, Shea S, Levitan EB, Muntner P. Ethnic Differences in Hypertension Incidence Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Hypertension. 2011; 57 (6): p.1101-1107.doi: 10.1161/hypertensionaha.110.168005 . | Open in Read by QxMD

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