Preventing Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is a type of heart disease caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of a waxy substance called plaque—composed of cholesterol, fat, and calcium—in the arteries. Risk factors include unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, a high-fat diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. 

NYU Langone doctors recommend making the following lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and a heart attack. 

Lower Blood Pressure 

If your blood pressure is high, it’s important to lower it. High blood pressure can create microscopic tears in artery walls, which can lead to scarring. Plaque becomes trapped in the scar tissue, causing the arteries to stiffen and narrow. This reduces blood flow to the heart. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease. 

You may be able to lower blood pressure by losing weight if you need to; exercising regularly; limiting alcohol intake; quitting smoking; and cutting back on salt. Doctors recommend eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats, such as those from olive oil. 

Reducing stress may also help lower blood pressure. Specialists at Rusk Rehabilitation offer integrative therapies designed to help you relax, such as acupuncture, massage, and meditation.

If lifestyle changes alone do not lower your blood pressure, your NYU Langone cardiologist may prescribe medication

Reduce Cholesterol

High levels of cholesterol in the blood cause plaque to build up in the arteries. This can decrease blood flow to the heart, causing symptoms such as chest pain. Plaque can rupture and cause blood clots to form in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. 

To reduce cholesterol, limit your fat intake—especially saturated fats, which come from fatty meats like beef and lamb, as well as full-fat dairy products. Also, restrict trans fats, which are found in fried foods, some processed foods, and many packaged baked goods, such as pastries, cookies, and crackers. Healthy fats, such as olive oil, need not be limited. 

Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower cholesterol. Your doctor may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications. 

Quit Smoking

Smoking can increase the odds of developing coronary artery disease by two to four times. The nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure and heart rate; reduces the amount of oxygen the heart receives; and increases the risk of blood clots. The chemicals in tobacco also contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries that lead to the heart. 

When you quit smoking, your odds of developing coronary artery disease decrease dramatically. After one year, your risk is reduced to half that of a smoker. NYU Langone’s Tobacco Cessation Programs can give you the support you need to quit. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, because carrying excess weight forces the heart to work harder. Also, people with obesity are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, all of which are risk factors for coronary artery disease. 

Lowering your body mass index (BMI), a measurement of body weight in relation to height, can help reduce your risk. A person with a BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, while someone with a BMI of 30 and above is considered obese. 

To lose weight, NYU Langone doctors recommend eating a diet rich in lean sources of protein, such as fish and chicken, as well as fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains; limiting your intake of salt, as well as sugary drinks and foods; and exercising regularly. Specialists at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. 

In addition, specialists at the outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program at Rusk Rehabilitation can help you safely lose weight after surgery or coronary angiogram and stent treatment for coronary artery disease.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise can help prevent coronary artery disease by controlling blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and strengthening the heart. Your doctor may recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, five days a week. Splitting up your workouts into 10- to 15-minute sessions several times a day is just as beneficial as exercising for longer periods of time.

Control Diabetes

Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than those who don’t have the condition. Diabetes is a stronger risk factor for heart disease in women than in men. People with diabetes are more likely to have obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol than those who don’t have diabetes.

Your NYU Langone doctor may prescribe medications to manage blood sugar and, if necessary, lower blood pressure. Most adults with diabetes who are over age 40 are also prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications to reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke. NYU Langone specialists can help you find additional ways to manage diabetes, such as with regular glucose monitoring, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. 

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