Happy New Year to everyone. I’ll start out the year with a blog that discusses the most basic of concepts in cardiology: cardiac risk factors. That’s the phrase we use to refer to aspects in a person’s medical history that affect the likelihood of him or her having a heart problem—in particular, the heart problem of coronary heart disease—also known as coronary artery disease, these two phrases often being abbreviated as “CHD” or “CAD.” We also talk about risk factors for other heart problems, like heart failure and atrial fibrillation, but this blog is about CHD risk factors.
In 1948, the town of Framingham, MA was chosen as the site for a large epidemiological study on CAD. They collected information from over 5000 residents, such as what their cholesterol levels were, what their blood pressures were, how much they weighed, whether they smoked, and how much they exercised. The study still continues and is now in its fourth generation of participants! From the data obtained, correlations were found between having heart attacks and smoking, not exercising, being overweight, and having high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. In fact, it was from this study that the term risk factor was first coined to describe these potentially treatable predictors of heart disease.
Over the years, other studies have collected similar types of information and added to our list of risk factors. Currently, the most potent risk factors—and the ones that cardiologists will most consistently ask each of their patients about—are: 1) Hypertension (high blood pressure), 2) High cholesterol, 3) Diabetes, 4) Smoking, and 5) Family history of premature heart disease. We used to also consider male gender to be a risk factor, but we now know that women develop coronary heart disease as much as men do—it just tends to happen about 10 years later, most often after menopause.
Future blogs will discuss some of these risk factors in greater detail. Till then, happy 2022!
Greg Koshkarian, MD, FACC