Several risk factors can result in or contribute to the development of coronary artery disease.
Non-modifiable risk factors (factors you cannot change):
Age: As you grow older, your risk of coronary artery disease increases.
Gender: Coronary artery disease is more common in men. Men develop coronary artery disease earlier in life, while the risk increases in women after menopause.
Family History: You could be at higher risk of developing coronary artery disease if there is a family history of heart disease, especially if it involves a direct family member (parents, sibling). Your risk could be significant if a direct family member was diagnosed with heart disease at a young age (<55 years old in women, <45 years old in men).
Modifiable risk factors (factors within your control):
Smoking: Toxic chemicals from cigarettes cause direct damage to blood vessels, decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart, and increases the risk of developing deadly blood clots.
Individuals who smoke are at a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease and heart attack. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can increase an individual’s risk.
High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure that is not under good control places a strain on the heart and directly damages blood vessels, making it easier for plaque to form.
High Cholesterol Levels: High cholesterol in the blood can lead to atherosclerosis, or the build-up of thick, fatty plaque that narrows and blocks arteries. In particular, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol promote atherosclerosis.
Diabetes: Diabetes is an established risk factor of coronary artery disease. High sugar levels can damage nerves and blood vessels in the heart and elsewhere in the body. Patients with diabetes may develop more extensive atherosclerosis as compared to non-diabetic patients.
Obesity: Obesity or excess body fat, particularly around the waist, can be a cause of increased blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
Physical Inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is strongly linked to coronary artery disease and may worsen the control of other risk factors.
Unhealthy Diet: Diet containing high amounts of saturated & trans-fat, salt, and sugar could increase the risk of coronary artery disease and may worsen the control of other risk factors.
Stress: Unresolved stress in your life may aggravate other risk factors and damage your arteries.
Often, there is a strong interplay of two or more risk factors such that they may occur together or one may affect the other. The more risk factors you have, the higher risk you are at developing coronary artery disease. However, coronary artery disease may develop even in the absence of risk factors.
Active steps can be taken to modify the risk factors to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. A healthy lifestyle can be extremely beneficial.