Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the primary cause of death in the United States amongst both men and women. The most common type of heart disease, CAD is caused by a buildup of calcium, cholesterol, and plaque on the inner walls of the blood vessels. This buildup, known as atherosclerosis, leads to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries to the heart. Atherosclerosis restricts the amount of blood that can flow through the arteries, which prevents the heart from receiving vital oxygen and nutrients. In severe cases, this leads to chest pain, heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Long term CAD can cause weakness in the heart muscle. This can result in irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or even heart failure, meaning the heart can no longer adequately pump blood throughout the body.
While some risk factors for CAD, such as age, sex, and family history, cannot be modified, others can be modified or treated. These factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Poor diet
- High blood pressure
- High blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and LDL cholesterol
- Low blood levels of HDL cholesterol
- High blood levels of lipoprotein (a)
- Metabolic disorders
Smoking in particular, including exposure to second hand smoke, more than doubles the risk of CAD and heart attack.
Diets low in fiber and vitamins C, D, and E can increases risk for CAD. Additionally, diets lacking phytochemicals (health promoting substances found in fruits and vegetables) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish oils) can increase the risk for CAD.
Alcohol, when limited to one or two drinks per day, may slightly reduce the risk of CAD, however it can lead to an increased risk for stroke. Three or more drinks per day increases the risk of CAD, and the greater the consumption the greater the risk.