Heart Home > Causes of Coronary Heart Disease

The main cause of coronary heart disease (CHD) is the narrowing of coronary arteries. In most cases, this narrowing is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the inside walls of the arteries. Certain factors are known to increase a person's risk of developing CHD. Risk factors for this disease include things you can control (such as having high cholesterol, smoking, and being physically inactive) as well as conditions over which you have no control (such as a family history of early heart disease).

An Overview of the Coronary Heart Disease Causes

The cause of coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease, or CAD) is a narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Most of the time, narrowing of coronary arteries is the result of atherosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the inside walls of arteries. Some hardening of the arteries occurs normally as you grow older.
 
Also, although not specific coronary heart disease causes, certain factors can increase a person's risk for developing heart disease. These are known as heart disease risk factors.
 

Atherosclerosis

The main cause of coronary heart disease is atherosclerosis. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries can become narrowed or clogged by cholesterol and fat deposits known as plaque. This buildup of plaque is a process called atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, the coronary arteries cannot supply enough blood to the heart, and the result is coronary heart disease (CHD). If not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, you may experience chest pain called angina. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by total blockage of a coronary artery, the result is a heart attack. This is usually due to a sudden closure resulting from a blood clot forming on top of a previous narrowing.
 
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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