Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(6):1466

See related article on primary prevention of coronary heart disease.

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (also called CHD) is sometimes also called coronary artery disease. Arteries carry blood to your heart. When fatty material builds up in the arteries, it blocks or slows the flow of blood and oxygen. This can happen in any artery, but when it happens in the arteries of the heart (the coronary arteries), you could have a heart attack. Both men and women can get CHD. About 13.9 million Americans have CHD.

What causes CHD?

CHD can run in the family. It might develop as you get older or if you are overweight or if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Unhealthy habits, like smoking, eating a diet high in fat and not exercising enough, can also cause CHD. Lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of CHD.

What can I do to lower my risk of CHD?

  1. Don't smoke. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit. After two or three years of not smoking, your risk of CHD will be as low as the risk of a person who never smoked.

  2. Lower your cholesterol. A healthy, low-fat diet is the way to start. Try to eat low-fat foods. Keep your daily fat calories to less than 30% of your total calories. For adults, this means eating less than 60 grams of fat a day. Some people may also need medicine to lower their cholesterol.

  3. Control your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will suggest ways to lower your blood pressure. If you're taking medicine for high blood pressure, take it just the way your doctor wants you to, so your blood pressure will be as close to normal as possible.

  4. Exercise. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease and make your heart stronger. Exercise can also help if you have high blood pressure. Before you start, talk to your doctor about the right kind of exercise for you. Try to exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.

  5. Ask your doctor about taking a low dose of aspirin each day. Aspirin helps prevent CHD, but taking it also has some risks.

  6. Ask your doctor about vitamins. Vitamin E has been shown to lower the risk of a heart attack. B vitamins may also protect against CHD.

  7. If you have gone through menopause, ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (also called HRT). HRT may protect you against CHD.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.