Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, causing them to become narrowed or blocked. The coronary arteries deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart and supply blood flow to the heart muscle.
High blood pressure can damage blood vessels over time, increasing the risk of CAD. Similarly, high cholesterol, especially elevated LDL or bad cholesterol, leads to the formation of plaque in the coronary arteries.
If CAD progresses, it can lead to reduced blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain known as angina. In severe cases, blood clots may form in the narrowed arteries, leading to a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States in men and women. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CAD or are concerned about your risk.
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
- Age (older than 65)
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
The symptoms of coronary artery disease can vary depending on the extent of the blockage in the coronary arteries. Some people may not experience any symptoms. Common symptoms of CAD include:
- Angina: This is the most typical symptom of CAD. It is a feeling of discomfort, pressure, squeezing or pain in the chest. The pain may radiate to the arms, shoulders, back, neck or jaw. It often occurs during physical activity, emotional stress or after a heavy meal.
- Shortness of breath: People with CAD may experience this symptom during exertion or physical activity. This occurs when the heart’s ability to pump blood is reduced due to decreased blood flow through the narrowed arteries.
- Fatigue: Reduced blood flow to the heart muscle can lead to a decrease in the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. As a result, the body may not receive enough oxygen rich blood, leading to fatigue and weakness.
- Heart palpitations: Some individuals might experience a sensation of a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
- Cold sweats: Unexplained sweating can occur during episodes of angina or heart-related events.
- Dizziness: In some cases, decreased blood flow to the brain can cause dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Sleep disturbances: People with CAD may be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. This can contribute to a decrease in oxygen levels and an increase in stress on the heart, potentially worsening CAD symptoms or increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.
- Weakness: CAD leads to reduced blood flow in the coronary arteries, resulting in decreased oxygen and nutrient delivery to the heart muscle. The heart’s pumping ability may be compromised, leading to weakness.
- Heart attack: In some cases, CAD may lead to a complete blockage of a coronary artery, resulting in a heart attack.
Detection and Diagnosis
Several tests are available to diagnose CAD. Your doctor may use cardiac catheterization, echocardiography, coronary computed tomography angiogram (CTA), CT heart score, HeartFlow® FFRCT Analysis or other tests.
Regular medical check-ups, including physical exams and review of medical history, can help monitor heart health and identify any signs of minor heart blockage or risk factors for CAD. Early detection and intervention are crucial in preventing complications.
Coronary Artery Disease Prevention and Treatment
A healthy lifestyle can help prevent CAD. Maintaining a healthy weight, following a heart healthy diet low in saturated fats and high in good cholesterol, and engaging in regular physical activity are essential. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association® Task Force recommend these lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart disease.
When CAD becomes significant, a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) may be necessary. This procedure is performed by interventional cardiologists to open narrowed or blocked coronary arteries, restoring blood flow to the heart. Treatments for more severe cases can include procedures and surgeries such as angioplasty, coronary artery bypass grafting or percutaneous coronary intervention.