5 Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D. | Mar 15th 2017 Jun 1st 2017

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What you should know

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States and can lead to serious complications, including angina, heart attacks, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Here are five factors that put you at higher risk.

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1. Being older

The older you are, the greater your coronary artery disease risk. This increases exponentially after age 45 in men and after age 55 in women. Four out of five people who die of coronary artery disease are over age 65.

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2. Being a man

More men than women develop coronary artery disease. Women tend to develop the condition about 10 years later than men do. However, a woman’s risk starts to approach that of a man’s after menopause, when women begin to produce less estrogen. This change causes “bad” LDL cholesterol to rise and “good” HDL cholesterol to drop. In addition, with age, there is a tendency to gain weight and exercise less.

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3. Having a family history

If members of your family have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, your own risk of the disease is higher as well. This is particularly true if male members of your immediate family were diagnosed with coronary heart disease before age 55, or female members received a coronary heart disease diagnosis before age 65.

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4. Having a stroke

If you have had an ischemic stroke or been diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease (a narrowing of the arteries in the legs), you are also at increased risk for developing coronary artery disease. A stroke results from obstruction of an artery supplying blood to the brain; peripheral arterial disease from blockages of arteries carrying blood to the lower extremities. If you have plaque buildup in those arteries, there’s a good chance you also have plaques in your coronary arteries.

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5. Having kidney disease

People with kidney disease have a significantly higher risk of coronary artery disease than the general population, even when kidney disease is in its early or intermediate stages. In fact, people with kidney problems are more likely to die of coronary artery disease than of kidney disease itself. One reason is that people with kidney disease are likely to have other risk factors for coronary artery disease, including high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

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What you can do

You can take steps to prevent coronary artery disease from developing. That includes not smoking, getting high blood pressure under control, treating high cholesterol, watching your waistline through diet and exercise, and treating diabetes and sleep apnea.