April 2024

Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: Know Your Risk

Your healthcare provider doesn’t have a crystal ball. But there is a way they can predict the future, at least when it comes to your chances of developing heart disease.

At your next visit, ask about calculating your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. By plugging a few numbers and other details into a formula, your healthcare provider can tell you about your health now and for years to come.

Understanding your risk can help you take steps to stay healthy. Here’s what you need to know.

What is atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease?

It occurs when a sticky substance called plaque builds up inside your arteries. This narrows them so oxygen-rich blood can’t reach your vital organs.

The related condition is also called atherosclerosis. It can cause many problems, including chest pain, strokes, vascular dementia, and death.

You can be at risk without realizing it. In fact, about half of Americans ages 45 to 84 already have atherosclerosis and don’t know it.

How can you tell if you’re in danger?

To calculate your chances, your clinician will need to know a few details. This includes your:

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Blood pressure

  • Total cholesterol

  • HDL or good cholesterol

  • LDL or bad cholesterol

  • History of diabetes

  • Smoking history

They’ll also ask if you’re taking statins or aspirin, or being treated for high blood pressure.

What do your results mean?

The most common calculators estimate your risk of developing atherosclerosis in the next 10 years.

The categories are:

  • Low risk: Less than 5%

  • Borderline risk: 5% to 7.4%

  • Intermediate risk: 7.5% to 19.9%

  • High risk: 20% or more

Your provider will explain where you fall. But your risk score isn’t your destiny. Together, you can develop a plan to reduce it.

Care for your blood vessels

Steps you can take include:

  • Moving more. Take a 30-minute brisk walk, or a similar activity, every day.

  • Sleeping enough. Aim for 7 to 8 hours per night.

  • Quitting smoking, or not starting.

  • Taking cholesterol-lowering medicine, if it’s right for you.

Keep tabs on your numbers, such as cholesterol and blood pressure. Your healthcare team might also recommend other tests. All this keeps plaque under control and protects your health.






Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik, MBA, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
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