Heart disease occurs when plaque develops in the arteries leading to the heart. This blocks important nutrients and oxygen from reaching this vital organ.

Heart disease, sometimes called coronary heart disease (CHD), is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States.

Heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaque, a waxy substance made up of cholesterol, fatty molecules, and minerals.

It accumulates over time when the inner lining of your arteries is damaged by high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, or elevated cholesterol or triglycerides.

Learning about the causes and risk factors of this disease may help you avoid heart problems.

Having family members who have or have had heart disease raises your chance of getting the condition.

Research suggests that your genes alone can double or triple the chances of developing heart disease, especially when combined with lifestyle risk factors such as smoking or unbalanced nutrition.

According to older research mentioned in a 2020 review, having a male parent with heart disease may raise your chance of the condition slightly more than having a female parent. You also have a higher risk if you have a sibling with heart disease, and even more so if they’re a twin.

[the terms “male” and “female”]

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes and “men and women” when referring to their gender (unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language).

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

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In addition, other biological factors can raise your chances as well. For instance, the chance of heart disease increases around the age of 55 in females and 45 in males.

Another factor is belonging to historically marginalized groups. Research suggests that 24% of people of South Asian descent develop heart disease, compared to only 8% of people who are white.

When considering race, people who are white have a heart disease rate of only 3.2%, compared to just over 5% in Hispanics and Black people.

Several risk factors play an important role in determining whether or not you’re likely to develop heart disease.

This includes high blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides.

However, this also includes conditions such as:


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that people with type 2 diabetes — and especially those who have reached middle age — are twice as likely to have heart disease or experience a stroke as people who don’t have diabetes.

Adults with diabetes also tend to have heart attacks at a younger age. They’re more likely to experience multiple heart attacks if they have insulin resistance or high blood glucose levels.

The reason for this is the relationship between glucose and blood vessel health. High blood glucose levels that aren’t managed can increase the amount of plaque that forms within the walls of the blood vessels. This hinders or stops the flow of blood to the heart.

If you have diabetes, you can reduce the risk of heart disease by managing your blood sugar carefully. Follow a diabetes-friendly diet rich in fiber and low in sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates. Managing your blood sugar levels can also help lower your risk for eye disease and circulation problems.

You should also maintain a healthy weight. And if you smoke, now’s a good time to consider quitting.


Research has shown that people with depression develop heart disease at higher rates than the general population.

Depression can lead to a number of changes in your body that can increase your chance of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Too much stress, consistently feeling sad, or both can elevate your blood pressure.

In addition, depression also raises your levels of a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a marker for inflammation in the body. Higher than typical levels of CRP have also been shown to predict heart disease.

Depression can also lead to a decreased interest in daily activities. This includes daily routines like exercise that are necessary to help prevent heart disease. Other unhealthy behaviors that can also raise your chance of heart disease may follow, such as skipping medications or not putting effort into eating a healthy diet.

Talk with your doctor if you suspect you have depression. Professional help can get you back on the path to good health and may reduce the possibility of recurring problems.

Though genetic factors can increase your chance of developing heart disease, unhealthy lifestyle choices play a big role.

Some unhealthy lifestyle choices that can contribute to heart disease include:

  • living a sedentary lifestyle and not getting enough physical exercise
  • eating an unhealthy diet that’s high in fat proteins, trans fats, sugary foods, and sodium
  • smoking
  • alcohol misuse
  • staying in a high-stress environment without proper stress management techniques
  • not managing your diabetes

Can healthy people get heart disease?

While lifestyle factors like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can help you get healthier and have the potential to reduce your chance of getting heart disease, it doesn’t always work. It is very possible for a very healthy person to get heart disease at some point simply due to their genetics.

How do I prevent heart disease?

It’s not possible to prevent heart disease entirely. That said, making certain lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking and treating conditions that can raise the chance of heart disease like high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression.

Can heart disease be treated?

The treatment for heart disease is often a combination of lifestyle changes and medications such as blood thinners. In some cases, you may need surgery.

Learn more: Everything you need to know about heart disease.

What are signs your heart is quietly failing?

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, edema, and feeling faint or weak.

Other symptoms may include sudden weight gain, loss of appetite, confusion, coughing, and swelling in various parts of the body. Heart failure is a chronic condition but can also occur acutely.

Learn more: What is heart failure?

Is it a heart attack?

A heart attack is a problem caused by blocked coronary arteries that feed the heart. Heart failure is a muscle problem.

If you experience sudden, severe, and sharp chest pain, call 911 or your local emergency services right away. It may be a sign of a heart attack.

Other symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • pain in your left arm, shoulder, or neck
  • nausea or sweating
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • fatigue

A heart attack may lead to heart failure if it causes a significant amount of heart muscle damage.

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Heart disease is dangerous, but it can be prevented in many cases. Everyone would benefit from maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, but it’s particularly important for those with increased risk.

Prevent heart disease by doing the following:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress in your life.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Drink in moderation.
  • Get annual physical exams from your doctor to detect abnormalities and assess risk factors.
  • Take supplements, as advised by your doctor.
  • Know the warning signs of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

You cannot control your genetics, and as a result, some people are more susceptible to heart disease than others. That said, living a healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective ways you can reduce the chance of getting heart disease.