Classical risk factors and emerging elements in the risk profile for coronary artery disease

G. F. Gensini, M. Comeglio, A. Colella

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The prevention of coronary artery disease is based on the control of several factors associated with a disease or clinical condition and suspected to play a pathogenetic role, defined as 'risk factors'. Smoking is a powerful risk factor for coronary artery disease, with risk of events increasing in relation to the number of cigarettes smoked daily. Smoking cessation is associated within 3-4 years, with a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk. Hyperlipidaemia is a powerful predictor of coronary disease with a strong, independent, continuous and graded positive association between cholesterol levels and risk of coronary events. Several large studies have shown the benefit of cholesterol reduction, and there is clear evidence of the efficacy of statins in the reduction of events in primary and secondary prevention. Hypertension is a significant, strong and independent risk factor for coronary artery disease morbidity and mortality and the reduction of events and mortality by antihypertensive treatment is well documented. Obesity is associated with an increase in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality, with a particularly high risk for subjects with central obesity. Central obesity is also part of the so-called 'metabolic X syndrome' including insulin resistance, which appears to be associated with a particularly high risk of coronary artery disease. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in women. Several studies have shown that good metabolic control and multifactorial risk factor reduction significantly lower the coronary risk in these patients. Recent evidence is accumulating that some clotting factors (fibrinogen, factor VII, von Willebrand factor) and fibrinolytic factors (t-PA and PAI-1) are associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. The European Concerted Action on Thrombosis (ECAT) showed that the levels of fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor antigen, and t-PA antigen are independent predictors of subsequent coronary syndromes in patients with angina pectoris, and that low fibrinogen is associated with a low risk of events despite high cholesterol levels. Post-menopausal status is associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease, particularly when menopause is premature (before the age of 45) or abrupt (surgical). There is strong, though not yet completely definite evidence that post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy may significantly reduce the risk of events and improve survival. Hyperhomocysteinaemia is an emerging risk factor independently associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, cerebral vascular disease, and peripheral vascular disease. The administration of vitamin B6, B12 or folate seems to be useful and is currently under further evaluation. Recently, attention has been focused on the correlation between coronary artery disease and genetic factors, such as ACE gene polymorphism or the gene polymorphism for the IIIa-moiety of the platelet fibrinogen receptor IIb-IIIa. In primary prevention, control of the major risk factors mainly in patients with clustered factors will subtantially reduce the risk of ischaemic events. Secondary prevention of CHD is based on: aggressive behavioural advice, blood pressure reduction in hypertensives, good metabolic control of diabetes, and cholesterol reduction. Aspirin, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and oral anticoagulants, may be useful in selected patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Heart Journal
Issue numberSUPPL. A
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Coronary heart disease
  • Prevention
  • Risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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