- As you get older, your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) increases. Other risk factors can cause plaque to build up in your arteries as you age. Over time, there may be enough plaque in your arteries to cause symptoms. For men, risk increases after age 45, while in women, risk increases after age 55.
- Other than advanced age, smoking is the biggest contributing factor to whether or not a person will develop CAD. The risk of developing CAD is even higher when a person smokes and also has other risk factors.
- High cholesterol by itself isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, but when you have too little of the “good” kind (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) and too much of the “bad” (low-density lipoprotein or LDL), you should take steps to lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
High triglyceride levels
- Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. However, having high triglyceride levels with low HDL or high LDL is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque inside arteries that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and is the underlying cause of CAD.
High blood pressure
- High blood pressure can damage the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This damage can promote the buildup of plaque inside the arteries in your heart, causing the arteries to stiffen and narrow over time, limiting blood flow to the heart muscle.
A sedentary lifestyle
- Too little physical activity is a risk factor for CAD. Regular physical activity, like walking, helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other benefits of being active include better control of blood cholesterol, reduced risk of diabetes, weight loss, and lower blood pressure.
- People with excess body fat—especially around the waist—are at a higher risk for heart disease even without other risk factors. Lifestyle changes, like a heart-healthy diet and regular physical activity, can often result in weight loss as well as improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
- Diabetes is a major contributor to CAD. Even if your glucose levels are in a healthy range, you are still at increased risk for heart disease if you have diabetes. The risk is even greater if your blood sugar is not under control. That’s why it’s essential to work with your healthcare professional to get your diabetes under control and reduce your risk for CAD.
- The connection between stress and heart disease requires more research, but many healthcare professionals agree that managing stress is beneficial for overall health. Stress releases hormones that elevate heart rate and blood pressure. Some people may respond to stress by engaging in behaviors that may harm their health, including drinking, smoking, or overeating. If you struggle with stress, you can try out a few of these tips to help you cope.
What is the connection between CAD and PAD?
It is also common for people with CAD to have peripheral artery disease, or PAD. Not only do CAD and PAD share similar risk factors, they are both the end result of atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up inside arteries that supply nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to the body. In PAD, this plaque buildup occurs in arteries that supply blood to the limbs, usually the legs. People who have both CAD and PAD have an even higher risk for blood clot–related events, like a heart attack or stroke, than people with CAD or PAD alone, so it’s important to ask your doctor about getting screened for PAD.
Managing your overall health
Unfortunately, no medicine or procedure can completely rid your arteries of plaque, and the underlying risk of blood clots in people with CAD can cause a life-threatening heart attack or stroke. However, it is possible to slow the progression of your CAD by managing your overall health. In addition to taking any other medicines your doctor has prescribed, like medicines for high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it’s also important to quit smoking, maintain a heart-healthy diet, and stay active. If you're just starting out or simply want to recommit to healthy habits, these tips for healthy living may help.