Who Is At Risk for Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause
of death in the United States for both men and women. Each year, more than half
a million Americans die from CAD.
Certain traits, conditions, or habits may raise your
chance of developing CAD. These conditions are known as risk factors.
You can control most risk factors and help prevent
or delay CAD. Other risk factors can't be controlled.
Major Risk Factors
Many factors raise the risk of developing CAD. The
more risk factors you have, the greater chance you have of developing CAD.
blood cholesterol levels. This includes high LDL cholesterol (sometimes
called bad cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol (sometimes called good
blood pressure. Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or above
140/90 mmHg over a period of time.
- Smoking. This can damage and tighten blood
vessels, raise cholesterol levels, and raise blood pressure. Smoking also
doesn't allow enough oxygen to reach the body's tissues.
- Insulin resistance. This condition occurs when
the body can't use its own insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps
move blood sugar into cells where it's used.
- Diabetes. This is a disease in which the body's blood sugar
level is high because the body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use its
or obesity. Overweight is having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat,
and/or water. Obesity is having a high amount of extra body fat.
syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors linked
to overweight and obesity that raise your chance for heart disease and other
health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.
- Lack of physical activity. Lack of activity can
worsen other risk factors for CAD.
- Age. As you get older, your risk for CAD
increases. Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to build in your arteries
as you age. By the time you're middle-aged or older, enough plaque has built up
to cause signs or symptoms.
- In men, the risk for CAD increases after age
- In women, the risk for CAD risk increases
after age 55.
- Family history of early heart disease. Your risk
increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with CAD before 55 years of
age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed with CAD before 65 years of
Although age and a family history of early heart
disease are risk factors, it doesn't mean that you will develop CAD if you have
one or both.
Making lifestyle changes and/or taking medicines to
treat other risk factors can often lessen genetic influences and prevent CAD
from developing, even in older adults.
Emerging Risk Factors
Scientists continue to study other possible risk
factors for CAD.
High levels of a protein called C-reactive protein
(CRP) in the blood may raise the risk for CAD and
attack. High levels of CRP are proof of inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is the body's response to injury or infection. Damage to the
arteries' inner walls seems to trigger inflammation and help plaque grow.
Research is under way to find out whether reducing
inflammation and lowering CRP levels also can reduce the risk of developing CAD
and having a heart attack.
High levels of fats called triglycerides in the
blood also may raise the risk of CAD, particularly in women.
Other Factors That Affect Coronary Artery
Other factors also may contribute to CAD. These
apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which your breathing stops or gets very
shallow while you're sleeping. Untreated sleep apnea can raise your chances of
having high blood pressure, diabetes, and even a heart attack or
- Stress. Research shows that the most commonly
reported "trigger" for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting
eventparticularly one involving anger.
- Alcohol. Heavy drinking can damage the heart
muscle and worsen other risk factors for heart disease. Men should have no more
than two drinks containing alcohol a day. Women should have no more than one
drink containing alcohol a day.