South Asians originate from the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal) and represent one fifth of the world's population. Several studies suggested that South Asians have an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) when compared with European populations. We review the role of traditional and emerging risk factors in the increased CHD risk in South Asians. The high prevalence of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus in South Asians may be a major cause for their elevated vascular risk. However, other established and emerging risk factors are also overrepresented in South Asians. Large-scale prospective studies could determine the relative contribution of established and emerging vascular risk factors in South Asians. There is an urgent need for trials in South Asians that will evaluate clinical outcomes following treatment of these risk factors.