Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors

The risk of coronary heart disease increases when certain risk factors, both genetic and lifestyle, are present. Some risk factors, such as genetics and hereditary heart disease, cannot be avoided. Others, such as smoking, obesity, or a sedentary lifestyle, are conditions that people can control. Identifying risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) and changing unhealthy lifestyle habits are essential for heart attack prevention.

Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease

A family history of heart disease increases an individual’s chances of developing CAD. While a family history of CAD, or one’s age, are not factors we have any power over, certain other factors that increase the risk of developing CAD and having a heart attack can be controlled. Having more than one risk factor multiplies your chances of a heart attack.

Age and Heart Disease

People over the age of 65 are more at risk of coronary heart disease than younger people. However, heart attack prevention should begin at an earlier age to be most effective. Even though symptoms generally become apparent in older people, coronary heart disease can begin early in life.

Heart attack prevention techniques can benefit older patients even after heart disease symptoms develop. By quitting smoking, for instance, less strain is put on the heart.

Heath and Lifestyle Issues Associated with CAD

Diabetes mellitus
Diabetes mellitus occurs when the body cannot control blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels damage blood vessels, so diabetes mellitus is also a risk factor for heart attacks. If you live with diabetes, careful monitoring of your blood sugar levels is essential for cardiovascular disease prevention.

High Cholesterol
High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol are associated with atherosclerosis. While LDL cholesterol contributes to heart disease, adequate HDL cholesterol actually helps prevent CAD.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, puts extra stress on the heart leading to changes in the heart muscle and blood vessels that can contribute to CAD. Hypertension has few symptoms, and can be caused by lifestyle choices, hereditary factors, or both.

Overweight and Obesity
Excess body fat is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease. People with the “apple body” shape, where excess body fat is carried around the belly, are particularly at risk. Being overweight or obese not only makes the heart work harder, it increases blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and the risk of diabetes, while lowering HDL levels.

Smoking damages both blood vessels and lung function, significantly lowering the amount of oxygen that reaches the heart. Further, chemicals in tobacco smoke actually promote atherosclerotic plaque formation. Get tips on how to quit smoking.

Physical Inactivity
Being inactive increases the likelihood of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Even moderate levels of exercise, if done over the long term, can help reduce these risks. The more vigorous the exercise, especially aerobic exercise, the greater the benefit. Learn more about how to feel better with exercise.

Other Potential Risk Factors

Rheumatoid Arthritis, Women, and Heart Attacks

Recent data demonstrates that women with rheumatoid arthritis may be at an increased risk of heart attack compared to women without RA. The article detailing these observations was published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association. Although the mechanism for the increased risk of heart attacks is unclear, researchers suggest that CAD prevention should be pursued aggressively in women with rheumatoid arthritis.

Heart Attack Prevention

Heart attack prevention tips are provided in the Heart Attack Treatments section.