Lowering Heart Disease Risk Is More Than Just Lowering Your Cholesterol Number

IMAGE Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Although there are different types of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common. CAD occurs when vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrow. This narrowing happens when fats, cholesterol, and calcium build up on the vessel walls. As the build-up thickens, the vessels become narrower, making it difficult for blood to flow to the heart muscle. This can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, or even death. Cholesterol receives a lot of attention for being a risk factor for CAD. You may think that if you lower your cholesterol numbers, you will reduce your overall heart disease risk. But focusing only on your cholesterol numbers is a small part of achieving the real goal—lowering your risk of CAD. Beyond the numbers, there are other risk factors that you need to be aware of.

What Are Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

There are 2 main types of risk factors for heart disease. There are those that you can change (modifiable) and those that you cannot change (non-modifiable). For example, age is a non-modifiable risk factor. Being older puts you at greater risk for developing CAD, but you cannot prevent aging. Smoking also puts you at higher risk for developing heart disease. But this risk factor is modifiable because you can quit smoking and lower your risk. Here are more examples of the types:


  • Age—Risk increases as you get older
  • Gender—Men have a greater risk of heart attack
  • Menopause—For women, risk increases after menopause
  • Family history—Risk increases if family members have heart disease
  • Race—African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and Asian Americans are at a higher risk


  • Being overweight or obese
  • Poor nutrition
  • Low physical activity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Low HDL, or “good,” cholesterol
  • High LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol

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