Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition caused by plaque buildup along the inner walls of the coronary arteries. Coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients.
Also known as atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. However, with lifestyle adjustments, medicines, and/or medical procedures, CAD can be dramatically reduced or treated in most people.
How Coronary Artery Disease Develops
Plaque deposits of fatty materials like cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood start compiling in childhood and continue throughout your life. Over time, plaque residues narrow your coronary arteries and decrease the blood flow to your heart. Decreased blood flow may cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath or other coronary artery disease signs and symptoms.
A number of traits, conditions or habits contribute to the risk factors of developing coronary artery disease. Risk factors include your family history, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, as well as lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. Most risk factors can be minimized by pursuing a healthy lifestyle or taking medications.
Coronary Artery Disease and Heart Attack
Individuals with CAD also have a risk for blood clots that can cause a heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction). This happens when plaque in an artery ruptures, triggering the body’s blood-clotting response. A clot forms around the rupture and blocks off blood flow and oxygen to the heart, causing a heart attack. With blood flow to the heart interrupted, part of the heart muscle can become permanently damaged or destroyed.
Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease
Your doctor will diagnose coronary artery disease based on a number of factors, among them your medical and family histories, a physical exam and one or more diagnostic tests.
Visit our Health Library to learn more about these potential diagnostic tests:
- EKG (Electrocardiogram)
- Stress Test (Exercise Electrocardiogram)
- Chest X Ray
- Blood Tests
- Electron-Beam Computed Tomography
Treatment Options for Coronary Artery Disease
Treatments for coronary artery disease may comprise of a number of options, including lifestyle changes, medicines, medical procedures and cardiac rehabilitation.
Coronary artery disease can often be prevented, or effectively treated, with lifestyle improvements and medications. Healthy diet, increased physical activity, weight loss, smoking cessation and reduced stress can lead to impressive results. Medicines used to treat CAD include anticoagulants, aspirins, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, nitroglycerin and more.
If you need a medical procedure to treat CAD, you and your doctor can discuss which of these two treatments is right for you:
Almost all CAD patients can benefit from cardiac rehabilitation. Physical training encourages safe exercise practices, strengthens your muscles and improves your stamina. Education and counseling help you understand your heart condition and find ways to reduce the risk of future heart problems. When combined with medicine and surgical treatments, cardiac rehabilitation can help you recover faster, feel better, and establish a healthier lifestyle.
Make an Appointment
To schedule an appointment to discuss your need for care for coronary artery disease or any other heart condition, call us at 888-287-1082. Visit our Make a Cardiovascular Appointment page for more information about what to expect when you call.
A heart attack can strike suddenly, with no warning signs. However, many patients have some symptoms, including recurrent chest pain or pressure that comes on with exertion and stops at rest, tightness in the chest, trouble breathing, sweating and dizziness. Women are more likely to experience subtler heart attack symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and back or stomach pain.
Heart attack risk factors include advanced age, gender (overall, men have a greater risk of heart attack), family history of heart disease, unhealthy cholesterol levels, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, alcohol consumption, diabetes and smoking.