Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that bring blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) become hardened and narrowed. The arteries harden and narrow because of a buildup of plaque on the inner walls. Plaque is made up of cholesterol and fatty deposits. This is called atherosclerosis. Narrowing of the coronary arteries can limit blood flow to the heart. This means less oxygen gets to the heart. Less oxygen can lead to angina, heart failure, irregular heart rhythm, and heart attack.
CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the U.S. in both men and women. Other names for CAD are coronary heart disease (CHD), heart disease, and ischemic heart disease.
Note: Gender words are used here to talk about anatomy and health risk. Please use this information in a way that works best for you and your provider as you talk about your care.
First, select your gender. Then answer the questions to help learn your risk for CAD.
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing CAD. Some risk factors you cannot control. These are your age, gender, and a family history of heart disease. Other risk factors you can change. These include smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity. The information you gave us shows that you have the following risk factors.
As you get older, your risk for CAD increases. In men, risk increases after age 45. In women, risk increases after age 55.
The information you gave us means that you currently don't have any significant risk factors for coronary artery disease. But men do have a slightly higher risk of heart attack than women. The following information may help you prevent coronary artery disease in the future.
The information you gave us means that you currently don't have any significant risk factors for coronary artery disease. The following information may help you prevent coronary artery disease in the future.
Family history of heart disease
According to the American Heart Association, if one or both of your parents have heart disease, you are more likely to develop it yourself. In addition to your family history, your ethnic background can also mean you have inherited an increased risk. For example, Blacks have more severe high blood pressure than whites and a higher risk for heart disease.
High total blood cholesterol
Your high cholesterol makes it more likely that you will develop CAD. The higher your cholesterol level, the greater your risk for CAD. People who have total cholesterol levels greater than 200 mg/dL may have an increased risk factor for CAD. Talk with your healthcare provider about your cholesterol levels, especially your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and to lower it. This is called “bad” cholesterol because it can cause plaque to build up in the blood vessels. In addition to your cholesterol levels, your healthcare provider can help you identify your personal risk for CAD using a heart disease risk calculator. It includes your cholesterol levels along with other risk factors. Based on your results, your provider will talk with you and, if needed, may advise goals for treating your cholesterol. Sometimes you can lower your cholesterol just by changing your lifestyle. Sometimes you may also need to take medicine. Controlling your cholesterol is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk for CAD.
High blood pressure
It's important to control your high blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard. This extra work can cause hardening of the arteries. A blood pressure level of 130/80 mmHg or higher is considered high. High blood pressure is diagnosed when multiple, separate readings show blood pressure above 130/80 mmHg. If your blood pressure is 120 to 129 and less than 80, it is elevated. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your blood pressure readings. Both numbers in a blood pressure test are important, but for people who are 50 or older, the first number (systolic pressure) gives the more accurate diagnosis of high blood pressure. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to lower your blood pressure. Sometimes you can lower your blood pressure simply by changing your lifestyle. Sometimes you may also need to take medicine.
Your diabetes makes it much more likely that you will develop CAD. Even people who carefully control their blood sugar are at greater risk. The risk is even greater for people who don't control their blood sugar. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die from some form of heart disease or stroke. If you have diabetes, work with your healthcare provider to keep it under control. Try to control any other risk factors you have. You may need to take medicine or even insulin and monitor your blood sugar levels often.
Because you smoke, your risk of developing CAD is greater than for a person who doesn't smoke. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke cause CAD because the toxins in cigarette smoke lead to hardening of the arteries. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to quit smoking. You may need to use nicotine replacement products.
Your body mass index (BMI) is . Your BMI gives you an estimate of your body fat. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you are overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher means you are obese. Your extra pounds—especially if most of them are around your waist—make it more likely that you will develop CAD. Extra weight makes your heart work harder and raises your blood pressure. It also raises your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers your HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Extra weight can make you more likely to develop diabetes. Many obese and overweight people may have difficulty losing weight. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to lose weight. You may need to follow a weight-loss program.
Your lack of regular exercise puts you at risk of developing CAD. Regular, moderate exercise helps control cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It also helps prevent type 2 diabetes and obesity. The more vigorous your exercise, the greater the benefits, according to the American Heart Association. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. Your provider can also help you decide which exercise is best for you.
These are steps you can take to cut your risk for CAD:
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, quit. Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help in quitting.
- Stay away from secondhand smoke.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink. If you are a man, limit your alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day. If you are a woman, limit your alcohol to no more than 1 drink a day.
- Exercise most days of the week. Aim for 30 minutes on average of moderate- to high-intensity exercise each day. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.
- Eat a healthy diet. This means limiting the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you eat.
- Control your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, follow your healthcare provider's advice on how to lower it.
- Control your cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol levels, follow your healthcare provider's advice on how to lower it.
- Manage your weight. Lose weight if you need to.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional health care. Always consult with a healthcare provider for advice about your health. Only your healthcare provider can tell if you have coronary artery disease.