Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease develops when your coronary arteries — the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients — become damaged or diseased. Cholesterol-containing deposits (plaque) on your arteries are usually to blame for coronary artery disease.
When plaques build up, they narrow your coronary arteries, causing your heart to receive less blood. Eventually, the 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.
Because coronary artery disease often develops over decades, it can go virtually unnoticed until you have a heart attack. But there's plenty you can do to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. Start by committing to a healthy lifestyle.
If your coronary arteries become narrowed, they can't supply enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart — especially when it's beating hard, such as during exercise. At first, the decreased blood flow may not cause any coronary artery disease symptoms. As the plaques continue to build up in your coronary arteries, however, you may develop coronary artery disease symptoms, including:
When to see a doctor
If you have risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity — talk to your doctor. He or she may want to test you for the condition, especially if you have signs or symptoms of narrowed arteries. Even if you don't have evidence of coronary artery disease, your doctor may recommend aggressive treatment of your risk factors. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop progression of coronary artery disease and help prevent a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease is thought to begin with damage or injury to the inner layer of a coronary artery, sometimes as early as childhood. The damage may be caused by various factors, including:
Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, fatty deposits (plaques) made of cholesterol and other cellular waste products tend to accumulate at the site of injury in a process called atherosclerosis. If the surface of these plaques breaks or ruptures, blood cells called platelets will clump at the site to try to repair the artery. This clump can block the artery, leading to a heart attack.
Development of atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a process in which blood, fats such as cholesterol, and other substances build up on your artery walls. Eventually, deposits called plaques may form. The deposits may narrow &...
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
Risk factors often occur in clusters and may build on one another, such as obesity leading to diabetes and high blood pressure. When grouped together, certain risk factors put you at an ever greater risk of coronary artery disease. For example, metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated insulin levels and excess body fat around the waist — increases the risk of coronary artery disease.
Sometimes coronary artery disease develops without any classic risk factors. Researchers are studying other possible factors, including:
Coronary artery disease can lead to:
Preparing for your appointment
Early-stage coronary artery disease often produces no symptoms, so you may not discover you're at risk of the condition until a routine checkup reveals you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. So it's important to have regular checkups.
If you're seeing your doctor because you're having symptoms or you have risk factors for coronary artery disease, you're likely to start by first seeing your primary care doctor or a general practitioner. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Questions to ask your doctor at your initial appointment include:
Questions to ask if you are referred to a cardiologist include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
The doctor will ask questions about your medical history, do a physical exam and order routine blood tests. He or she may suggest one or more diagnostic tests as well, including:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for coronary artery disease usually involves lifestyle changes and, if necessary, drugs and certain medical procedures.
Procedures to restore and improve blood flow
Coronary artery stent
When placing a coronary artery stent, your doctor will find a blockage in your heart's arteries (A) using cardiac catheterization techniques. A balloon on the tip of the catheter is inflated to widen ...
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that's thought to reduce inflammation throughout the body, a contributing factor to coronary artery disease.
Other supplements may help reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol level, two other contributing factors to coronary artery disease. These include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Lifestyle changes can help you prevent or slow the progression of coronary artery disease.
In addition to healthy lifestyle changes, remember the importance of regular medical checkups. Some of the main risk factors for coronary artery disease — high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes — have no symptoms in the early stages. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health.
Also ask your doctor about a yearly flu vaccine. Coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular disorders increase the risk of complications from the flu.
The same lifestyle habits that can help treat coronary artery disease can also help prevent it from developing in the first place. Leading a healthy lifestyle can help keep your arteries strong and clear of plaques. To improve your heart health, you can:
Last Updated: 2012-06-29
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