Coronary Heart Disease Research

For almost 75 years, the NHLBI has been at the forefront of improving the nation’s health and reducing the burden of heart and vascular diseases. Heart disease, including coronary heart disease, remains the leading cause of death in the United States. However, the rate of heart disease deaths has declined by 70% over the past 50 years, thanks in part to NHLBI-funded research. Many current studies funded by the NHLBI focus on discovering genetic associations and finding new ways to prevent and treat the onset of coronary heart disease and associated medical conditions.

NHLBI research that really made a difference

The NHLBI supports a wide range of long-term studies to understand the risk factors of coronary heart disease. These ongoing studies, among others, have led to many discoveries that have increased our understanding of the causes of cardiovascular disease among different populations, helping to shape evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.

  • Risk factors that can be changed: The NHLBI Framingham Heart Study (FHS) revealed that cardiovascular disease is caused by modifiable risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressureobesity, high cholesterol levels, and physical inactivity. It is why, in routine physicals, healthcare providers check for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unhealthy eating patterns, smoking, physical inactivity, and unhealthy weight. The FHS found that cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart disease. Researchers also showed that cardiovascular disease can affect people differently depending on sex or race, underscoring the need to address health disparities. 
  • Risk factors for Hispanic/Latino adults: The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) found that heart disease risk factors are widespread among Hispanic/Latino adults in the United States, with 80% of men and 71% of women having at least one risk factor. Researchers also used HCHS/SOL genetic data to explore genes linked with central adiposity (the tendency to have excess body fat around the waist) in Hispanic/Latino adults. Before this study, genes linked with central adiposity, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, had been identified in people of European ancestry. These results showed that those genes also predict central adiposity for Hispanic/Latino communities. Some of the genes identified were more common among people with Mexican or Central/South American ancestry, while others were more common among people of Caribbean ancestry.
  • Risk factors for African Americans: The Jackson Heart Study (JHS) began in 1997 and includes more than 5,300 African American men and women in Jackson, Mississippi. It has studied genetic and environmental factors that raise the risk of heart problems, especially high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failurestroke, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Researchers discovered a gene variant in African American individuals that doubles the risk of heart disease. They also found that even small spikes in blood pressure can lead to a higher risk of death. A community engagement component of the JHS is putting 20 years of the study’s findings into action by turning traditional gathering places, such as barbershops and churches, into health information hubs.
  • Risk factors for American Indians: The NHLBI actively supports the Strong Heart Study, a long-term study that began in 1988 to examine cardiovascular disease and its risk factors among American Indian men and women. The Strong Heart Study is one of the largest epidemiological studies of American Indian people ever undertaken. It involves a partnership with 12 Tribal Nations and has followed more than 8,000 participants, many of whom live in low-income rural areas of Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for American Indian people. Yet the prevalence and severity of cardiovascular disease among American Indian people has been challenging to study because of the small sizes of the communities, as well as the relatively young age, cultural diversity, and wide geographic distribution of the population. In 2019, the NHLBI renewed its commitment to the Strong Heart Study with a new study phase that includes more funding for community-driven pilot projects and a continued emphasis on training and development. Read more about the goals and key findings of the Strong Heart Study.

Current research funded by the NHLBI

Within our Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, the Atherothrombosis and Coronary Artery Disease Branch of its Adult and Pediatric Cardiac Research Program and the Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science oversee much of our funded research on coronary heart disease.


Current research on preventing coronary heart disease

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on preventing coronary heart disease on the NIH RePORTER.

Current research on understanding the causes of coronary heart disease

  • Pregnancy and long-term heart disease: NHLBI researchers are continuing the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be (nuMoM2b) study to understand the relationship between pregnancy-related problems, such as gestational hypertension, and heart problems. The study also looks at how problems during pregnancy may increase risk factors for heart disease later in life. NuMoM2b launched in 2010, and long-term studies are ongoing, with the goal of collecting high-quality data and understanding how heart disease develops in women after pregnancy.
  • How coronary artery disease affects heart attack risk: NHLBI-funded researchers are investigating why some people with coronary artery disease are more at risk for heart attacks than others. Researchers have found that people with coronary artery disease who have high-risk coronary plaques are more likely to have serious cardiac events, including heart attacks. However, we do not know why some people develop high-risk coronary plaques and others do not. Researchers hope that this study will help providers better identify which people are most at risk of heart attacks before they occur.
  • Genetics of coronary heart disease: The NHLBI supports studies to identify genetic variants associated with coronary heart disease. Researchers are investigating how genes affect important molecular cascades involved in the development of coronary heart disease. This deeper understanding of the underlying causes for plaque buildup and damage to the blood vessels can inform prevention strategies and help healthcare providers develop personalized treatment for people with coronary heart disease caused by specific genetic mutations.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on understanding the causes of coronary heart disease on the NIH RePORTER.

Current research on treatments for coronary heart disease

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on treating coronary heart disease on the NIH RePORTER. 

Coronary heart disease research labs at the NHLBI

Related coronary heart disease programs

The Truth About Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet
The Truth About Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet

Learn how heart disease may be different for women than for men.

Explore more NHLBI research on coronary heart disease

The sections above provide you with the highlights of NHLBI-supported research on coronary heart disease. You can explore the full list of NHLBI-funded studies on the NIH RePORTER.

To find more studies:

  • Type your search words into the Quick Search box and press enter. 
  • Check Active Projects if you want current research.
  • Select the Agencies arrow, then the NIH arrow, then check NHLBI.

If you want to sort the projects by budget size from the biggest to the smallest click on the FY Total Cost by IC column heading.

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