Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), is a common cause of death in the United States. This disease poses a significant threat to our heart health and develops as the coronary arteries—those crucial lifelines that supply the heart muscle with blood, oxygen, and nutrients—become constricted, often due to blockages. These blockages are primarily the result of an accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other inflammatory substances, leading to a condition known as atherosclerosis. The formation of these plaques within the arteries is a reminder of the importance of maintaining heart health through vigilant care and preventive measures.

A healthier heart begins with recognizing and tackling the risk factors that contribute to plaque buildup in our coronary arteries. This is a critical step in diminishing or averting the risk of coronary artery disease, which can escalate to a heart attack if left unchecked. There are 5 risk factors for coronary artery disease, and decreasing these risks form the basis of treatment:

  • Smoking cigarettes has been proven time and time again to increase and accelerate your risk of CAD. It is the only risk factor that can be completely avoided by never smoking or reversed by quitting smoking, which has been shown to decrease the risk over time.
  • Another critical risk factor to consider is hypertension, characterized by blood pressure readings exceeding 150/90. Reducing your blood pressure to below 130/80, or even further, can have life-saving implications. It not only significantly diminishes the risk of developing coronary artery disease but also reduces the likelihood of experiencing a stroke.
  • Adult-onset diabetes, also known as type 2 diabetes, is a major risk factor for CAD and this type of diabetes can run in families, also known as having a genetic predisposition. Controlling your blood sugar can decrease the risk of having a heart attack and slow the progression of CAD. If you have a family history of diabetes, even if you don’t have it yet yourself, your blood sugar should be monitored closely with your healthcare professional.
  • Hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol, means you have elevated lipid levels of cholesterol that can stealthily compromise arterial health. Since cholesterol is a major part of plaque formation, having a high cholesterol, especially a high LDL cholesterol increases your risk of having coronary artery disease. Hyperlipidemia can have a genetic component causing an increased risk of CAD as well. The treatment for high cholesterol can be as simple as diet and exercise to help lower your risk including a diet low in fried foods, fatty foods and sugar. If that does not work your doctor may want to try medications.
  • A family history of CAD significantly elevates the risk of encountering similar heart health challenges. If your immediate family members—such as parents or siblings—have experienced a heart attack, particularly before the age of 55 in male relatives and 65 in female relatives, or if they have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, this hereditary factor places you at a heightened risk. Understanding the implications of your family’s health history is crucial in recognizing and mitigating your own risk of CAD.

While the most common risk factors for Coronary Artery Disease include hypertension, smoking, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and family history, it’s important to recognize that other elements can also elevate your risk. Being overweight, kidney issues, poor sleep habits, excessive alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and increased stress all contribute to the complex landscape of risk factors associated with CAD. Understanding and addressing these additional factors are crucial steps in a comprehensive approach to managing your heart health.

Enhancing your overall health involves adopting several key lifestyle changes. Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and boosts cardiovascular health. A diet that emphasizes low-fat, low-salt choices and is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supports heart well-being. Additionally, reducing and managing stress plays a significant role in safeguarding your heart.

Coronary artery disease can remain undetected for many years, silently progressing without any noticeable symptoms. Proactively discussing risk factors and treatment options with your healthcare provider can help prevent serious complications. However, if you experience any signs such as chest pain during exertion, shortness of breath with activity, weakness or lightheadedness, or heart palpitations, it could indicate that CAD is advancing. Be sure to discuss any symptoms, risk factors and preventive measures with your TopLine MD affiliated Physician to safeguard your health.

Dr. Lenny Sukienik is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Primary Care in Palm Beach County.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.