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Home / About Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Risk Factors for Coronary Artery
Disease (CAD)

A number of risk factors can increase your chance of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). There are several that you cannot control. For instance, if heart disease runs in your family, or if you are over the age of 65, you have an increased likelihood of developing this condition. But many risk factors for CAD can be controlled with lifestyle changes, the proper medication, and medical procedures.

Lifestyle risk factors

Risk factors for coronary artery disease include these lifestyle choices:

  • Smoking is a major factor contributing to heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a smoker's risk of developing CAD is two to four times that of non-smokers'. Exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk for heart disease as well.
  • Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease. It also worsens other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, especially if you carry extra pounds around your waist. In general, women with a waistline that measures larger than 35 inches, and men with a waistline larger than 40 inches, have a high risk for heart disease.
  • Physical inactivity is a strong risk factor for CAD. It contributes to other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to a damaged heart muscle, high triglycerides, and obesity—all risk factors for CAD.
  • Stress may contribute to heart disease, though more research is needed to determine how this may happen. Researchers already know, though, that ongoing physical or emotional stress may cause people to overeat, smoke, or drink too much, increasing their risk for heart disease.

If you have any of these risk factors for CAD, there's a lot you can do to lead a healthier life. Learn more at Lifestyle Changes That May Help Prevent CAD.

Medical conditions related to coronary artery disease

Certain medical conditions can also increase your risk for CAD, including:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension): This common condition results when the force of blood against the artery walls becomes too high. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to heart disease.

    Blood pressure is made up of 2 numbers, an upper number (systolic pressure) and a lower number (diastolic pressure). Blood pressure is considered too high if it stays at or above 140/90 over a period of time.

  • High cholesterol: The plaque that can build up in your arteries contains cholesterol, a soft, fatty substance. Your body produces the cholesterol that it needs, but eating a diet high in saturated fat, being overweight, and not being physically active can all raise cholesterol to an unhealthy level.

    LDL ("bad") cholesterol contributes to cholesterol buildup in the arteries, and should be lower than 100 mg/dL. HDL ("good") cholesterol protects against heart disease, and should be 60 mg/dL or higher. To learn about eating strategies that can help, read Nutrition and Healthy Eating.

  • Diabetes: People with diabetes have blood sugar levels that are too high, either because they don't produce enough insulin or their body doesn't use it effectively. Having diabetes increases the risk for a heart attack or stroke.
  • Metabolic syndrome: This is the name for a group of risk factors that exist together that can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and having an excess of body fat around the waist.

If you have any of these risk factors, it's important to talk to your doctor about whether you may have CAD. You can learn about how this condition is diagnosed by reading Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease.


If you have a family history of heart disease, it increases your risk for developing this condition as well. That doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do about it. Making heart-healthy choices, such as eating a low-fat diet, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help you prevent or delay the onset of CAD and other types of heart disease.

Did you       

Stress tests are an important tool to help doctors diagnose people suspected of having CAD. Learn about tests your doctor may use.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease.

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