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Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease. CHD is a disease in which plaque builds up on the inner walls of your coronary arteries. These arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Over time, this plaque can harden or rupture and cause angina or a heart attack. Coronary heart disease can also cause other serious heart problems such as Heart Failure, Arrythmias and Sudden Cardiac Death.

Some causes of CHD are smoking, including secondhand smoke, high blood pressure, blood vessel inflammation, high amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood  and high amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes.

Who is At Risk?

Certain traits, conditions or habits may raise your risk for CHD. The risk factors also increase the chance that existing CHD will worsen. Women generally have the same risk factors as men but some risk factors affect women differently than men. Diabetes raises the risk more in women. Also, a woman who uses birth control pills or who is experiencing menopause has a greater risk. Your risk for coronary heart disease and heart attack rises with the number of risk factors you have and their severity. Having just one risk factor doubles your risk for CHD. A person having 2 risk factors increases one’s risk fourfold and 3 or more increases your risk more than tenfold.

When it comes to risk factors there are controllable factors and factors that can’t be controlled.

Controllable factors include:

  • Smoking (the most powerful)
  • Excessive Alcohol Use
  • High Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Diabetes and Prediabetes
  • Overweight and Obesity
  • Lack of Physical Activity
  • Unhealthy Diet
  • Birth Control Pills
  • Stress or Depression
  • Anemia
  • Sleep Apnea

Uncontrollable factors include:

Through ongoing research and studies, emerging risk factors are now becoming apparent. Studies have shown that inflammation is possibly linked to heart disease. Inflammatory diseases, such as Lupus and Rheumatoid arthritis, are also suspected as risk factors. Some other emerging risk factors include migraine headaches and low bone density and low intake of Folate, Vitamin B6 and whether calcium supplements with or without Vitamin D affect CHD risk. More research is still needed to unequivocally name these as risk factors for CHD.

Signs and Symptoms

As you may or may not know, signs and symptoms differ between men and women. Some may not have any signs and symptoms. This is referred to as “Silent CHD”. With this, coronary heart disease may not be diagnosed until a woman has signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure or an arrhythmia.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease

How is Heart Disease Diagnosed?

There are several ways to diagnose heart disease:

  • EKG (Electrocardiogram)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Stress Testing
  • Blood Tests
  • Echocardiography (ECHO)
  • Coronary Angiography and Cardiac Catheterization


  • 1 in 3 women dies from heart disease in the U.S.(1 woman every minute)
  • Coronary Heart Disease is the most common type; the #1 killer of both men and women
  • Women tend to have CHD about 10 years later than men, however, CHD remains the #1 killer of women in the U.S. killing more than all forms of cancer combined
  • More than 75% of women aged 40 to 60 have 1 or more risk factors for CHD
  • Many risk factors start during childhood; some even develop within the 1st 10 yrs. of life
  • Of African-American women ages 20 and older, 49% have heart disease
  • 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease
  • Approximately 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease
  • Hispanic women are more likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women
  • Almost 2/3 (64%) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms

The good news in all of this is that you can control CHD risk factors through lifestyle changes, medications and medical or surgical procedures which can help women lower the risk factors for coronary heart disease. Early and ongoing prevention is important.