Coronary arteries bring oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is narrowing of these arteries. If the blockage is complete, areas of the heart muscle may be damaged. In a severe case, the heart muscle dies. This can lead to a heart attack, also known as a
Coronary Artery Disease
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Causes include: Thickening of the walls of the arteries that feed the heart muscleBuild up of fatty plaques within the coronary arteriesSudden spasm of a coronary arteryNarrowing of the coronary arteriesInflammation within the coronary arteriesDevelopment of a blood clot within the coronary arteries that blocks blood flow
Men, especially those who are over 45 years of age, are at increased risk. Women who are over 55 years of age are also at increased risk.
Factors that may increase your risk of CAD include: Strong family history of heart diseaseObesity
and being overweight
SmokingHigh blood pressureInactive lifestyleHigh cholesterol—specifically, high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol
DiabetesMetabolic syndrome—a combination of elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, abdominal obesity, and insulin resistance
Other risk factors may include: Chronic stress, fatigue, or disinterest can lead you to make poor decisions about your healthExcessive alcohol usePsychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.A diet that is high in saturated fat,
fat, cholesterol, and/or caloriesDrinking sugary beverages on a regular basis
CAD may progress without any symptoms.
is chest pain that comes and goes. It often has a squeezing or pressure-like quality. It may radiate into the shoulder(s), arm(s), or jaw. Angina usually lasts for about 2-10 minutes. It is often relieved with rest. Angina can be triggered by:
Exercise or exertionEmotional stressCold weatherA large meal
Chest pain may indicate more serious unstable angina or a heart attack if it includes the following: It is unrelieved by rest or nitroglycerinSevere anginaAngina that begins at restAngina that lasts more than 15 minutes
Accompanying symptoms may include: Shortness of breathSweatingNauseaWeakness
Immediate medical attention is needed for unstable angina. CAD in women may not cause typical symptoms. It is likely to start with shortness of breath and fatigue.
If you go to the emergency room with chest pain, some tests will be done right away. The tests will attempt to see if you are having angina or a heart attack. If you have a stable pattern of angina, other tests may be done to determine the severity of your disease.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
You may need to have your bodily fluids tested. This can be done with blood tests.
You may need to have pictures taken of your heart. This can be done with: Echocardiogram
Coronary calcium scoring—done by
CT scanCoronary angiography
You may need to have your heart function tested. This can be done with: Electrocardiogram
(EKG)Exercise stress testNuclear stress test
Treatment may include:
This medication is usually given during an attack of angina. It can be given as a tablet that dissolves under the tongue or as a spray. Longer-lasting types can be used to prevent angina before an activity known to cause it. These may be given as pills or applied as patches or ointments.
A small, daily dose of aspirin has been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack. Ask your doctor before taking aspirin daily.
Other blood-thinning medications may be prescribed.
These may help prevent angina. In some cases, they may lower the risk of heart attack.
Medications, like statins, are often prescribed to people who have CAD. Statins lower cholesterol levels, which can help to prevent CAD events.
Patients with severe blockages in their coronary arteries may benefit from procedures to immediately improve blood flow to the heart muscle:
Percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI)—such as
, in some cases, a wire mesh
is placed to hold the artery open
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)—segments of vessels are taken from other areas of the body and are sewn into the heart arteries to reroute blood flow around blockages
For patients who are not candidates for revascularization procedures, but have continued angina despite medication, options include: Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP)—large air bags are inflated around the legs in tune with the heart beat. The patient receives 5 1-hour treatments per week for 7 weeks. This has been shown to reduce angina and may improve symptom-free exercise duration.Transmyocardial revascularization (TMR)—surgical procedure done with laser to reduce chest pain
To reduce your risk of getting coronary artery disease: Maintain a healthy weight.
heart healthy diet
that is low in
, red meat and processed meats,
and rich in whole
fruits, vegetables, and nuts
Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
If you smoke,
talk to your doctor about ways to
Treat your high blood pressure and/or diabetes.Treat high cholesterol or triglycerides.Ask your doctor about taking a low-dose aspirin every day.Find ways to reduce stress.
Arora RR, Chou TM, et al. The multicenter study of enhanced external counterpulsation (MUST-EECP): effect of EECP on exercise-induced myocardial ischemia and anginal episodes.
J Am Coll Cardiol. 1999;33:1833-1840.
Boden WE, O'Rourke RA, Teo KK, et al. Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease.
N Engl J Med. 2007;356:1503-1516.
Coronary artery disease–Coronary heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at:
Updated September 2, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.
What is coronary artery disease?
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Updated August 23, 2012. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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