Coronary heart diseaseIntroduction

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is usually caused by a condition called atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty material and other substances form a plaque build-up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. This causes them to get narrow. As the coronary arteries narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. This can cause chest pain (stable angina), shortness of breath, heart attack, and other symptoms, usually when you are active. 

  • Men in their 40s have a higher risk of CHD than women. But as women get older (especially after they reach menopause), their risk increases to almost equal that of a man's risk.
  • Bad genes (heredity) can increase CHD risk. People are more likely to develop the condition if someone in their family has a history of heart disease, especially before the age of 50. The risk for CHD goes up with age. 
  • Diabetes is a strong risk factor for heart disease. 
  • High blood pressure increases the risk of coronary artery disease and heart failure. 
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels: To reduce the risk of CHD, LDL ("bad") cholesterol should be as low as possible, and HDL ("good") cholesterol should be as high as possible.
  • Metabolic syndrome refers to high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and increased insulin levels. People with this group of problems have an increased chance of getting heart disease.
  • Smokers have a much higher risk of heart disease than nonsmokers. 
  • Chronic kidney disease can increase your risk. 
  • Already having atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries in another part of your body (examples are stroke and abdominal aortic aneurysm) increases your risk. 
  • Other risk factors include alcohol abuse and not getting enough exercise.
  • Higher-than-normal levels of inflammation-related substances, such as C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, are being studied as possible indicators of an increased risk for CHD.

Increased levels of a chemical called homocysteine, an amino acid, are also linked to an increased risk of a heart attack.

Page last edited: 09 May 2011