A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop CAD with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing CAD. Some risk factors can't be changed, but many can. Talk to your doctor about how you can reduce the number of risk factors you have.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors may increase your risk of atherosclerosis, which can lead to CAD. These include:

  • Physical inactivity—Contributes to an increase in weight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other heart-related risk factors.
  • Smoking —Includes cigarettes, cigars, and second hand smoke. Smoking narrows blood vessels and irritates blood vessel walls, which both contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • A diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and/or calories. Increased fats in the diet are directly associated arterial plaque build-up.
  • Excess alcohol intake —Contributes to high triglycerides in the blood, increasing your risk of arterial plaque build-up.

Health Conditions

Having certain health conditions put you are at greater risk of developing CAD. These may include:

  • High blood pressure —Can lead to turbulent blood flow that can damage blood vessel walls.
  • Lipid disorders —High cholesterol and/or triglycerides in the blood contribute to plaque build up in the arteries.
  • Diabetes/glucose intolerance—High levels of glucose in the blood contribute to the risk of atherosclerosis and blood vessel damage.
  • Obesity and overweight—Excess weight puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome —A condition marked by elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. Excess weight centered around the midsection is of particular concern.
  • Chronic stress—Contributes to high blood pressure, depression, and may contribute to making poor decisions that affect your health, such as smoking.
  • Psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety —It is not known how depression, anxiety, and CAD are linked, but psychological problems do affect overall mental and physical well being. Fatigue, stress, or disinterest can lead you to make poor decisions about your health, such as ignoring treatment plans that reduce your risk of CAD.

Genetic Factors

Genetics are believed to play a role in risk factors that lead to CAD. A family history of CAD or heart disease can increase your risk of CAD. The risk increases when combined with other unhealthy lifestyle choices.


Men tend to develop atherosclerosis earlier than women. However, a woman’s risk increases to that of men with the onset of menopause.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.

Certain Blood Test Results

Recent research has found that higher levels of homocysteine and C-reactive proteins in the blood may increase the risk of developing CAD. However, it is not clear the exact relationship and what levels are desirable.

Talk to your doctor to see if these blood tests will benefit you. They may be done if you are considered to be a high-risk candidate for CAD.

Advancing Age

Your risk of CAD increases as you get older. Men older than 45 and women older than 55 (younger in cases of premature menopause) are at greater risk of heart disease.


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Coronary artery disease—coronary heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Coronary-Artery-Disease---Coronary-Heart-Disease_UCM_436416_Article.jsp#.Wp14QmrwbIV. Updated April 26, 2017. Accessed March 5, 2018.

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Coronary heart disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease. Accessed March 5, 2018.

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Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 1/18/2017