Definition

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a the most common type of heart disease. The coronary arteries begin to narrow. This will slow or stop blood flow.

These arteries bring blood to the heart muscle. It supplies the busy heart with oxygen and other nutrients. Slow or stopped blood flow will lead to damage of the heart muscle.

Coronary Artery Disease

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Causes

Damage to blood vessel walls causes CAD. Most common factors include:

  • Smoking, high blood pressure, and inflammation can all irritate and damage blood vessel walls.
  • Certain types of fat and cholesterol in the blood can cause a build-up on the walls. This build up is called plaque.

When plaque hardens it can tear blood vessel walls and cause bleeding. A blood clot will form to help the area heal. However, it can also add to plaque and further shrink path for blood flow.

Risk Factors

The risk for CAD is greater in:

  • Men (mostly those who are over 45 years of age)
  • Women who are over 55 years of age

Factors that may increase your risk of CAD include:

Other risk factors may include:

Symptoms

CAD itself may not have any signs or symptoms. Often the first sign is a problem with the heart. Weak or blocked blood flow to the heart can cause:

  • Angina—chest pain caused by low blood flow to heart muscle
  • Heart attack—loss of blood flow that has caused severe damage to heart muscle
  • Heart failure—the heart muscle is permanently harmed after years of poor blood flow

Call for emergency services right away if you think you may be having a heart attack. Early care can stop further harm.

Diagnosis

The doctor may suspect CAD based on your family and health past. If you have a high risk of CAD, these tests may be done:

Blood tests to check:

  • Cholesterol levels in blood
  • Glucose levels
  • Signs of inflammation

CAD may not be found until after angina appears or a heart attack occurs.

Treatment

The goals of treatment include:

  • Slow or stop growth of plaque in blood vessels. Decrease buildup if possible.
  • Decrease risk of complications like blood clots or heart attack.
  • Relieve symptoms, if there are any.

Options to help reach these goals include:

  • Focus on heart healthy diet which includes:
    • Limit saturated and trans fats, red meat, and processed meats.
    • Increase fruits, vegetables, fish, and fiber.
  • Do not drink too much alcohol. This means no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 per day for women.
  • Increase your activity levels. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days. Increase your activity bit by bit over time.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit. Avoid being around others who smoke.
  • Reach and keep a healthy weight.

Medicine can help to manage issues that can make CAD worse. It can also help decrease the risk of complications. Options include:

  • Statin therapy—to help manage cholesterol
  • Ace inhibitors or Beta blockers—may help to prevent angina and lower the risk of heart attack
  • Antiplatelet (aspirin or other)—to decrease risk of blood clots

Early care may decrease damage to the heart. Routine follow up care will be part of the care plan. Other steps that may be recommended include:

  • Keep control of your high blood pressure—may include medicine
  • Diabetes care plan—high blood glucose can damage blood vessels
  • Flu shot every year

Depression, anxiety, and stress can occur with CAD. Talk to your doctor if you need help.

There are also programs to help you make heart healthy changes. It includes help with your food and activity plans.

Surgery may be needed to remove very bad blocks. Options include:

Prevention

To reduce your risk of CAD: