Coronary artery disease is a buildup of fatty deposits in the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. This buildup of fat, cholesterol and calcium, known collectively as plaque, can cause a hardening and narrowing of the arteries which restricts blood from reaching the heart. Blood clots can also form and completely block the artery. Coronary artery disease develops gradually and can eventually lead to a heart attack or heart failure. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.
Reasons for Coronary Artery Disease
During the aging process, the coronary arteries may become clogged with cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances which gradually build up on their wall as arterial plaque. This is known as atherosclerosis. Certain factors increase the probability of this occurring, such as:
- High LDL, or bad cholesterol
- Low HDL, or good cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- High stress level
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
Since the build up of plaque is a gradual process, the patient may be asymptomatic for some time. Once the coronary arteries narrow to a certain degree, the following symptoms may occur:
- Angina or chest pain
- Heart attack
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
- Heart failure
Some patients do not know they have coronary artery disease until they have a heart attack.
Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease can be treated through lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors and the clogging of arteries. Recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Losing weight
- Reducing stress
These same lifestyle changes can help prevent the disease from developing in the first place. Medications such as beta blockers, nitroglycerin and cholesterol-modifying drugs can help treat coronary artery disease, while surgical procedures such as angioplasty, stent placement and coronary artery bypass surgery may be needed for more severe cases. Since coronary artery disease greatly increases the risk for heart attack, it is important to seek regular medical attention to manage the condition and prevent serious complications.