A risk factor for heart disease is something that increases your chance of getting it. You cannot change some risk factors for heart disease, but others you can change.
The risk factors for heart disease that you CANNOT change are:
Your age. The risk of heart disease increases with age.
Your gender. Men have a higher risk of getting heart disease than women who are still getting their menstrual period. After menopause, the risk for women is closer to the risk for men. See: Heart disease and women
Your genes. If your parents or other close relatives had heart disease, you are at higher risk.
Your race. African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk for heart problems.
Many things increase your risk for heart disease:
Diabetes is a strong risk factor for heart disease.
You may be asked to take one or more medicines to treat blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. Follow your doctor's directions closely to help prevent coronary artery disease from getting worse.
Goals for treating these conditions in people who have coronary artery disease:
Blood pressure less than or equal to 140/90 (even lower for some patients with diabetes, kidney disease, or heart failure)
Glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels less than or equal to 7% for people with diabetes
LDL cholesterol level less than or equal to 100 mg/dL (even lower for some patients)
Treatment depends on your symptoms and how severe the disease is. Your doctor may give you one or more medicines to treat CHD, including:
ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and protect your heart and kidneys
Aspirin, with or without clopidogrel (Plavix) or prasugrel (Effient) to help prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries
Beta-blockers to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen use by the heart
Calcium channel blockers to relax arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce strain on the heart
Diuretics ("water pills") to lower blood pressure and treat heart failure
Nitrates (such as nitroglycerin) to stop chest pain and improve blood flow to the heart
Statins to lower cholesterol
NEVER ABRUPTLY STOP TAKING ANY OF THESE DRUGS. Always talk to your doctor first. Stopping these drugs suddenly can make your angina worse or cause a heart attack.
Your doctor may refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program to help improve your heart's fitness.
Procedures and surgeries used to treat CHD include:
Nutrition is important to your heart health, and it will help control some of your heart disease risk factors. See also: Heart disease and diet
Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Choose lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans, and legumes.
Eat low-fat dairy products, such as 1% milk and low-fat yogurt.
Avoid sodium (salt) and fats found in fried foods, processed foods, and baked goods.
Eat fewer animal products that contain cheese, cream, or eggs.
Read labels, and stay away from "saturated fat" and anything that contains "partially-hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated" fats. These products are usually loaded with unhealthy fats.
Everyone recovers differently. Some people can maintain a healthy life by changing their diet, stopping smoking, and taking medications exactly as the doctor prescribes. Others may need medical procedures such as angioplasty or surgery.
Although everyone is different, early detection of CHD generally results in a better outcome.
Calling your health care provider
If you have any risk factors for CHD, contact your doctor to discuss prevention and possible treatment.
Immediately contact your health care provider, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or go to the emergency room if you have:
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Gaziano JM, Ridker PM, Libby P. Primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011: chap 49.
Greenland P, Alpert JS, Beller GA, Benjamin EJ, Budoff MJ, Fayad ZA, et al. 2010 ACCF/AHA guideline for assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2010;122(25)e584-e636.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Aspirin for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150:396-404.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.