8 Key Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

8 Key Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

Have you noticed that health care professionals seem a bit, well, obsessed over risk factors? There’s a good reason for their fixation. Risk factors are the key to preventing chronic diseases like coronary artery disease (CAD), a leading cause of death in both women and men.

The way to prevent CAD is to identify your risk factors, then take steps to change them. In many cases, you can accomplish the goal by changing your diet, getting more exercise, losing weight, and stopping smoking.

As a highly regarded cardiology specialist, Dr. Laura Fernandes, at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute, has helped many people lower their risks, preventing coronary heart disease and protecting them from heart attacks.

About coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when atherosclerosis develops inside the arteries carrying blood to your heart. Atherosclerosis begins when cholesterol attaches to the inner wall of an artery.

Over time, cholesterol, fats, and other substances like calcium accumulate in the plaque. As the fats build up, the plaque enlarges and calcium makes it harden.

If the fatty plaque gets large enough to block the artery, or it ruptures and pieces break off, circulation to your heart stops and you have a heart attack.

There are two risk factors for CAD (and most chronic diseases) that you can’t change: a family history and your age. The older you get, the more time plaque has had to develop. The risk for CAD significantly rises after the age of 45 for men and after menopause for women.

Eight risk factors you can change

The more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you’ll develop CAD. The eight major risk factors include:

1. High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) damages the coronary artery walls. The damage creates rough areas that snag cholesterol and accelerate plaque deposits. You won’t have any symptoms warning you about high blood pressure, which is why it’s important to get it checked on a regular basis.

2. High cholesterol

Your digestive tract encloses dietary cholesterol in protein, creating a tiny package called a lipoprotein. The amount of fat in the lipoprotein determines if it’s a high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDLs remove cholesterol from your blood, while LDLs stay in circulation, giving cholesterol the opportunity to turn into plaque. That’s why HDLs are called good cholesterol and LDLs are bad cholesterol.

3. Diabetes

High blood sugar damages your coronary arteries. People with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing the other conditions that contribute to CAD, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol and triglycerides.

Triglycerides are fats that come from the foods you eat. Your body also converts excess sugar into triglycerides and stores them as fat. These dangerous fats increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.

4. Obesity

For every one-point increase in your body mass index (BMI) over your healthy weight, your risk for CAD rises by 10%. Carrying excess abdominal fat is directly associated with a higher risk for atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

5. Unhealthy diet

The foods you eat either cause or prevent the diseases responsible for coronary artery disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes.

6. Lack of exercise

In addition to improving your overall health and helping you maintain a healthy weight, getting regular exercise helps lower your blood sugar and blood pressure.

7. Smoking

The chemicals inhaled from cigarettes have a devastating effect on your cardiovascular health. Smoking (and exposure to secondhand smoke) damages your blood vessels and raises your risk for CAD.

8. Stress

Stress automatically triggers reactions inside your body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, making your heart work harder, damaging artery walls, and contributing to atherosclerosis. If you have frequent or chronic stress, your cardiovascular system never gets a break.

To request a risk assessment and learn how you can prevent coronary artery disease, call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute or use online booking.

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