What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary artery or heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. You can modify some of the risk factors for developing CAD and some you cannot. Age, race and gender are examples of risk factors you cannot change and these factors are called non-modifiable risk factors. Behavior and lifestyle choices are modifiable risk factors of CAD. If you know the risks of CAD, you can take action to decrease as many as possible.


In 1960 the Framingham Heart Study was initiated to examine the incidence and causes of CAD. Many factors were investigated to include the effects of smoking. The study reported that smoking definitely increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Considering smoking causes vasoconstriction, or narrowing of blood vessels which decreases blood flow to tissues and organs, and decreases the amount of available oxygen carried in the blood, this risk factor is no surprise. Smoking is a major modifiable risk factor. If you smoke, take action now to quit.


The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute reports that obesity is a major and modifiable risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. Lifestyle modification that includes a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise can help minimize this risk factor. Controlling weight often takes more than a person’s individual effort. Work with your doctor, nutritionist and community resources to create a healthy weight-loss plan that will allow you to be successful.

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. Blood cholesterol levels can be considered both a modifiable and non-modifiable risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. Genetics play a role in how your body produces and metabolizes cholesterol. However, if you have high cholesterol, a diet low in fat and cholesterol can help you counter your body’s natural tendencies. Cholesterol-lowering medications may be necessary as well. Consult with your doctor to know what your cholesterol level is and how you can control it.


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that diabetes increases your risk for developing CAD. Diabetes, like high cholesterol, can be viewed as both a modifiable and non-modifiable risk factor. You may not have any control over developing diabetes, but you do have control over stabilizing your disease to minimize its damaging effects. Diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, impairs the body’s circulation which means decreased circulation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to tissues and organs, including the heart.


High blood pressure, called hypertension, increases your risk for developing coronary heart disease, according to the authors of “Medical-Surgical Nursing: Critical Thinking for Collaborative Care.” Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. It also makes the heart work much harder to pump blood throughout the body. These factors combined increased the risk of heart attack.

About this Author

Patricia Nevins is a registered nurse with nearly 20 years of nursing experience. She obtained her Master of Science in nursing with a focus in education from the University of Phoenix. Nevins shares her passion for healthy living through her roles as educator, nursing consultant and writer.