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 complete blockage can cause a heart attack.
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.
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.