It's the news you don't want to hear from your cardiologist: One or more of your coronary arteries -- the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart -- is blocked. You have coronary artery disease, the No. 1 killer of U.S. adults.
So does this mean you're headed for bypass surgery? Maybe not, if your situation isn't an emergency.
You might have other options -- including less drastic procedures to reopen those arteries, medication alone, or even radical lifestyle change.
What's your best option?...
Heart disease is a result of plaque buildup in your coronary arteries -- a condition called atherosclerosis -- that leads to blockages. The arteries, which start out smooth and elastic, become narrow and stiff. This is the first stage in the development of plaque, causing the arteries to become rigid, restricting blood flow to the heart. The heart potentially beomes starved of oxygen. The most concerning part of coronary artery disease is that the plaque could rupture, leading to a heart attack and potentially sudden cardiac death.
How Does Coronary Artery Disease Develop?
From a young age, cholesterol-laden plaque can start to deposit in the blood vessel walls. As you get older, the plaque burden builds up, inflaming the blood vessel walls and raising the risk of blood clots and heart attack. The plaques release chemicals that promote the process of healing but make the inner walls of the blood vessel sticky. Then, other substances, such as inflammatory cells, lipoproteins, and calcium that travel in your bloodstream and become incorporated into the developing plaque in the inner walls of the blood vessels.
As more and more of these cells are recruited, along with the deposition of cholesterol, these areas grow into bigger and bigger plaque, both pushing the artery walls outward, and growing inward, narrowing the vessel.
Eventually, a narrowed coronary artery may develop new blood vessels that go around the blockage to get blood to the heart. However, during times of increased exertion or stress, the new arteries may not be able to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
In some cases, when a plaque ruptures, a blood clot may totally block the blood supply to the heart muscle, causing heart attack. If a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, usually from a blood clot, an ischemic stroke can result. If a blood vessel within the brain bursts, most likely as a result of uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure), a hemorrhagic stroke can result.
Studies have found that taking low-dose aspirin on a daily basis may help prevent the development cardiovascular disease in those 50 or older and are at risk of developing heart disease.