Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.It is possible to develop CAD with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing CAD. Some risk factors can't be changed, but many can. Talk to your doctor about how you can reduce the number of risk factors you have.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors may increase your risk of atherosclerosis , which can lead to CAD. These include:
  • Physical inactivity—Contributes to an increase in weight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other heart-related risk factors.
  • Smoking —Includes cigarettes, cigars, and second hand smoke. Smoking narrows blood vessels and irritates the blood vessel walls, both factors that contribute to atherosclerosis .
  • A diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and/or calories. Increased fats in the diet are directly associated arterial plaque build-up.
  • Excess alcohol intake —Contributes to high triglycerides in the blood, increasing your risk of arterial plaque build-up.

Health Conditions

Having certain health conditions put you are at greater risk of developing CAD. These may include:
  • High blood pressure —Can lead to turbulent blood flow that can damage blood vessel walls.
  • Lipid disorders —High cholesterol and/or triglycerides in the blood contribute to plaque build up in the arteries.
  • Diabetes /Glucose intolerance—High levels of glucose in the blood contribute to the risk of atherosclerosis and blood vessel damage.
  • Obesity and overweight—Excess weight puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome —A condition marked by elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. Excess weight centered around the midsection is of particular concern.
  • Chronic stress—Contributes to high blood pressure, depression , and may contribute to making poor decisions that affect your health, such as smoking.
  • Depression —It is not known how depression and CAD are linked, but depression does affect overall mental and physical well being. Fatigue or disinterest can lead you to make poor decisions about your health, such as ignoring treatment plans that reduce your risk of CAD.

Genetic Factors

Genetics are believed to play a role in risk factors that lead to CAD. A family history of CAD or heart disease can increase your risk of CAD. The risk increases when combined with other unhealthy lifestyle choices.


Men tend to develop atherosclerosis earlier than women. However, a woman’s risk increases to that of men with the onset of menopause . Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.

Certain Blood Test Results

Recent research has found that higher levels of homocysteine and C-reactive proteins in the blood may increase the risk of developing CAD. However, it is not clear the exact relationship and what levels are desirable.Talk to your doctor to see if these blood tests will benefit you. They may be done if you are considered to be a high-risk candidate for CAD.

Advancing Age

Your risk of CAD increases as you get older. Men older than 45 and women older than 55 (younger in cases of premature menopause) are at greater risk of heart disease.

Race and Ethnic Factors

African Americans have a higher incidence of hypertension than Caucasians and, therefore, a higher risk of developing CAD. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans.



Coronary artery disease—coronary heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: hhttp://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Coronary-Artery-Disease---Coronary-Heart-Disease%5FUCM%5F436416%5FArticle.jsp. Updated August 30, 2013. Accessed January 27, 2014.

Coronary artery disease major risk factors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 18, 2013. Accessed January 27, 2014.

Coronary artery disease possible risk factors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2014.

CRP screening doesn’t improve conventional heart risk assessment. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://newsroom.heart.org/news/1200. Published November 27, 2010. Accessed January 27, 2014.

Park CS, Ihm SH, et al. Relation between C-reactive protein, homocysteine levels, fibrinogen, and lipoprotein levels and leukocyte and platelet counts, and 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease among healthy adults in the USA.Am J Cardiol. 2010;105(9):1284-1288.

Ridker PM, Rifai N, et al. Comparison of C-reactive protein and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the prediction of first cardiovascular events. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:1557-1565.

Who is at risk for coronary heart disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cad/atrisk.html. Updated August 23, 2012. Accessed January 27, 2014.

7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1037-1042.

7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Kodama S, Saito K, Tanaka S, et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness as a quantitative predictor of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events in healthy men and women: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009;301:2024-2035.

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