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Risk Factors

Many Risk Factors Can Be Controlled

There is a long list of traits, conditions and habits that can raise your risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). The more you have, the greater your risk. Fortunately, many of these can be controlled, helping to prevent or delay the development of CAD. These risk factors include:

Smoking

Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and other toxins can damage their inner lining causing plaques to rupture and create a heart attack. Smoking can also raise cholesterol and blood pressure. It also reduces the amount of oxygen getting your body's tissues. Stopping smoking can reduce your risk of heart attack by 50 percent.

High Cholesterol

Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol and/or low levels of high- density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Your goals for cholesterol are dependent on your risk factors for heart disease or whether you have established disease.

  • To use an online calculator to estimate your risk of heart attack or death, click here.
  • For recommendations of treatment based on risk,  click here.

High Blood Pressure

Uncontrolled blood pressure can help harden and thicken the arteries. In general, your blood pressure should be less than 120/80.

Diabetes

Diabetes substantially increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease. Even when glucose (blood sugar) levels are under control, diabetes boosts the risk of heart disease, but the risks are even higher if blood sugar is not well controlled. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, you should work with your doctor to manage it as best you can.

Obesity

Your body mass index (BMI) should be under 25.

Inactivity

You should exercise three times per week.

Stress

Activities designed to manage stress may reduce your risk of CAD.

Family History

A family history of heart disease increases your risk of developing CAD. Your risk increases if your father or brother was diagnosed with CAD before the age of 55 or if your mother was diagnosed before age 65.

Age

Your risk for CAD increases with age. For men, the risk increases sharply after age 45. For women, the risk jumps after age 55.

Metabolic Syndrome

This is a collection of conditions that includes high blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated insulin levels and excess body fat around the waist.

Sleep Apnea

This is a condition in which your breathing stops or gets very shallow while you are sleeping.

High Levels of C-Reactive Protein

Emerging research suggests that high levels of a protein called CRP in the blood may raise the risk of developing CAD or having a heart attack.

Contact Information

Cardiovascular Medicine
Division of the CardioVascular Institute
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-667-8800

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