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Coronary Artery Disease

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How Is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor can tell if you have coronary artery disease by:

  • Talking to you about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors.
  • Performing a physical exam.
  • Performing diagnostic tests, including an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), exercisestress tests, electron beam (ultrafast) CT scans, cardiac catheterization, and others. These tests help your doctor evaluate the extent of your coronary heart disease, its effect on the function of your heart and the best form of treatment for you.

How Is Coronary Artery Disease Treated?

Treatment for coronary artery disease involves making lifestyle changes, taking medications, possibly undergoing invasive and/or surgical procedures, and seeing your cardiologist for regular checkups.

  • Reduce your risk factors. If you smoke, quit. Avoid high-cholesterol foods and adopt a low-fat, low-salt diet. Keep your blood sugar in control if you have diabetes. Exercise more to maintain a healthy weight (but talk to your doctor before you starting an exercise program).
  • Medications. If making lifestyle changes isn't enough to control your heart disease, medications may be needed to help your heart work more efficiently and receive more oxygen-rich blood. The drugs you are on depend on you and your specific heart problem.
  • Surgery and other procedures. Common procedures to treat coronary artery disease include balloon angioplasty (PTCA), stent placement, and coronary artery bypass surgery. All of these procedures increase blood supply to your heart, but they do not cure coronary heart disease. You will still need to decrease your risk factors to prevent future disease.

Doctors are also studying several innovative ways to treat heart disease. Here are a couple of the more promising ones:

  • Angiogenesis. This involves giving substances, such as stem cells and other genetic material, through the vein or directly into damaged heart tissue to trigger the growth of new blood vessels to bypass the clogged ones.
  • EECP (Enhanced External Counterpulsation). Patients who have chronic angina but are not helped by nitrate medications or who do not qualify for various surgeries and procedures may find relief with EECP. The outpatient procedure involves using treatment cuffs placed on the legs that inflate and deflate, increasing the blood supply that feeds coronary arteries.

What to Do If You Have a Coronary Emergency

Learn to recognize your heart disease symptoms and the situations that cause them. Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe. If you or someone you are with experiences chest discomfort, especially if there is shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, a fast heart beat, nausea or sweating, don't wait longer than a few minutes to call 911 for help.

If you have angina and have been prescribed nitroglycerin, call your doctor or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room if pain persists after taking two doses (taken at five-minute intervals) or after 15 minutes.

Emergency personnel may tell you to chew an aspirin to help break up a possible blood clot, if there is not a medical reason for you to avoid aspirin.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael F. Richman, MD, FCCP, FACS on March 01, 2012
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