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What Are Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors?

Coronary heart disease risk factors are conditions or habits that raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and heart attack. These risk factors also increase the chance that existing CHD will worsen.

CHD, also called coronary artery disease, is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque (plak) builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle.

Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. Reduced blood flow can cause chest pain, especially when you're active. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This causes a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque.

If the clot becomes large enough, it can block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the portion of heart muscle fed by the artery. Blocked blood flow to the heart muscle causes a heart attack.

Overview

There are many known CHD risk factors. You can control some risk factors, but not others. Risk factors you can control include:

The risk factors you can't control are age, gender, and family history of CHD.

Many people have at least one CHD risk factor. Your risk of CHD and heart attack increases with the number of risk factors you have and their severity. Also, some risk factors put you at greater risk of CHD and heart attack than others. Examples of these risk factors include smoking and diabetes.

Many CHD risk factors start during childhood. This is even more common now because many children are overweight and don't get enough physical activity. Some CHD risk factors can even develop within the first 10 years of life.

Researchers continue to study and learn more about CHD risk factors.

Outlook

CHD is the #1 killer of both women and men in the United States. Following a healthy lifestyle can help you and your children prevent or control many CHD risk factors.

Because many lifestyle habits begin during childhood, parents and families should encourage their children to make heart healthy choices. For example, you and your children can lower your risk of CHD if you maintain a healthy weight, follow a healthy diet, do physical activity regularly, and don't smoke.

On average, people at low risk of CHD live nearly 10 years longer than people at high risk of CHD.

If you already have CHD, lifestyle changes can help you control your risk factors. This may prevent CHD from worsening. Even if you're in your seventies or eighties, a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of dying from CHD.

If lifestyle changes aren't enough, your doctor may recommend other treatments to help control your risk factors.

Your doctor can help you find out whether you have CHD risk factors. He or she also can help you create a plan for lowering your risk of CHD, heart attack, and other heart problems.

If you have children, talk with their doctors about their heart health and whether they have CHD risk factors. If they do, ask your doctor to help create a treatment plan to reduce or control these risk factors.

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Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors in the News

May 5, 2014
Health and financial analysis reinforces NIH's decision to fund Women's Health Initiative
An in-depth analysis of final data from one of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy Trials has found that the investment in WHI resulted in a return of $140 in net economic value for each dollar invested in the trial.

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Know the Facts and Act Fast!

Collage image of new heart attack materials

When a heart attack happens, any delays in treatment can be deadly. 

Knowing the warning symptoms of a heart attack and how to take action can save your life or someone else’s.

The NHLBI has created a new series of informative, easy-to-read heart attack materials to help the public better understand the facts about heart attacks and how to act fast to save a life.

Click the links to download or order the NHLBI's new heart attack materials:

“Don’t Take a Chance With a Heart Attack: Know the Facts and Act Fast” (also available in Spanish)

“Heart Attack: Know the Symptoms. Take Action.”

“Learn What a Heart Attack Feels Like—It Could Save Your Life”


Related Director's Message

August 6, 2014
Gary H. Gibbons
Women's Health: A Legacy of Commitment …

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February 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.