Coronary heart disease is usually caused by a condition called atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty material and a substance called plaque build up on the walls of the arteries. This causes them to get narrow. As the coronary arteries narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. This condition can cause chest pain (stable angina), shortness of breath, heart attack, and other symptoms.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death for men and women.
Many things increase your risk for heart disease:
- 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. See: Heart disease and women
- Bad genes (heredity) can increase your risk. You are more likely to develop the condition if someone in your family has had a history of heart disease — especially if they had it before age 50. Your risk for CHD goes up the older you get.
- Diabetes is a strong risk factor for heart disease.
- High blood pressure increases your risk of coronary artery disease and heart failure.
- Abnormal cholesterol levels: your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol should be as low as possible, and your 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 of having coronary heart disease.
- Other risk factors including alcohol abuse, not getting enough exercise, and excessive amounts of stress.
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 heart disease.
Increased levels of a chemical called homocysteine, an amino acid, are also linked to an increased risk of a heart attack.