Prevention of coronary heart disease: Part I. Primary prevention

Philip R. Liesbon, Ezra A Amsterdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The first concern in primary prevention is the physician's belief that primary prevention is important for all adults and that intervention can significantly affect risk. Given the coronary plaque burden over many years and the importance of the development of healthy lifestyles early in adulthood to decrease coronary plaque burden, there are excellent reasons to begin prevention even with young adults. At the very least, a patient seen for any reason should provide a smoking history, have knowledge of the presence of early CHD in first-degree relatives and measurements of blood pressure, height, and weight, provide evidence for a cholesterol level within 5 years (after age 20 according to NCEP guidelines or in middle age according to ACP guidelines), and be given an assessment of glucose tolerance or diabetes. Information about alcohol intake and physical activity status are also of some importance. Other than height, weight, and blood pressure, during the physical examination, the physician should initially assess the strength of pulses in the lower extremities, evidence for carotid or femoral bruits, and eyegrounds for retinal arterial changes, and the skin and subcutaneous tissue should be examined for xanthomas and the eyes should be examined for corneal arcus and xanthelesma. These elements should be part of any initial examination by a primary care physician and are not extraordinary. In addition to lipid and blood sugar analyses, other evaluations may include blood urea nitrogen and creatinine and electrolytes in patients with hypertension or diabetes or in patients who are on antihypertensive agents. It may be prudent to obtain an ECG for patients who are older than 40 years. The elements mentioned above are the elements of the history, physical examination, and laboratory examination in subjects without a past hisory of CHD and with no clinical evidence for CHD. Primary prevention management begins with a discussion of risk factors with the patient. The key interventions aim at the lowering of blood pressure to at least less than 140/90 mm Hg, the complete cessation of smoking, the lowering of lipid levels to less than 130 mg/dL, the lowering of triglycerides to less than 200 mg/dL (or, some would argue. < 150 mg/dL), and the attempt to keep HDL cholesterol above 35 mg/dL (more than 40 to 45 mg/dL is a better goal) with the use of lifestyle modification. For patients with diabetes, strict control of glucose levels is essential to minimize disease of the microvasculature and possibly to minimize progressive renal disease. There are several lifestyle modifications for lipids. For patients with elevated LDL cholesterol, modifications include a less than 30% fat calorie diet and less than 300 mg of cholesterol intake daily, with fat calories approximately equally distributed among saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats (1/3, 1/3, 1/3; rule of 3s). The assistance of a dietician is extremely helpful in this regard. For patients with a low HDL cholesterol, weight reduction (for overweight patients) by calorie control and increased physical activity and smoking cessation will have some modest effect. For patients with elevated triglycerides, a diet similar to that for lowering of LDL cholesterol with the addition of stricter calorie limitation, avoidance of refined sugars, increase in complex carbohydrates, and avoidance of alcohol will be helpful. A decrease in the percent of fat calories to 20% to 25% will be of assistance to those patients with particularly high triglycerides. The treatment of underlying conditions such as diabetes mellitus. hypothyroidism, liver disease, and some renal conditions may also significantly modify high triglycerides. For patients with hypertension, limitation of sodium to 2 gm/d (6 gm sodium chloride), limitation of alcohol to 1 to 2 drinks a day, increased physical activity, and weight reduction are the key lifestyle modifications. Smoking cessation requires frequent single or group intervention sessions by both the physician and a second health care professional, whether a nurse or behaviorist, with an attempt to set a quit-smoking date and follow-up visit. Nicotine patches, gum, and clonidine have been useful adjuncts. Exercise testing should be reserved for patients who are older than 35 to 40 years who want to begin fairly rigorous exercise programs. Activity programs should include at least 3 sessions a week for 30 minutes with warm-up and slow-down periods. A total of 3500 kcal/wk of exercise activity is recommended. The overweight patient should have a scale and weigh himself or herself every morning after getting out of bed. The purpose of this is not to see weight loss but to guard against weight gain. Diet surveys should include 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day. The key to prevention is physician and patient motivation. Motivation of the patient should include an understanding of the purpose of primary prevention and of the importance of short-term goals (specific short-term goals involve weight target, lipid levels, blood pressure, and smoking cessation date). Proactive health care can save many lives and decrease CHD morbidity in the productive years, which should extend well beyond the age of 65 years if appropriate prevention is continued. The authors acknowledge the excellent secretarial assistance of Carmen Trujillo-Garcia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-571
Number of pages73
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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