What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. It's also the
number one killer of both men and women in the United States.
When you have it, your heart muscle doesn't get enough blood. This can lead to serious problems,
can be a shock to find out that you have coronary artery disease. Many people
only find out when they have a heart attack. Whether or not you have had a
heart attack, there are many things you can do to slow coronary artery disease
and reduce your risk of future problems.
What causes coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease is
caused by hardening of the arteries, or
atherosclerosis . This means that fatty deposits called plaque (say "plak") build up inside the arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry
oxygen-rich blood throughout your body.
Atherosclerosis can affect any
arteries in the body. When it occurs in the ones that supply blood to the
heart (the coronary arteries ), it is called coronary artery disease.
When plaque builds
up in the coronary arteries, the heart doesn't get the blood it needs to work
well. Over time, this can weaken or damage the heart. If a plaque tears, the
body tries to fix the tear by forming a blood clot around it. The clot can
block blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack .
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can happen when the heart is working harder and needs more oxygen, such as during
exercise. Symptoms include:
- Angina (say "ANN-juh-nuh" or "ann-JY-nuh"), which most often is chest pain or discomfort or a strange feeling in the chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Heart attack. A heart attack is sometimes the first sign of
coronary artery disease.
Less common symptoms include a fast heartbeat, feeling sick
to your stomach, and increased sweating. Some people don't have any symptoms.
In rare cases, a person can have a "silent" heart attack, without
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your past health and
your risk factors. Risk factors are things that increase the chance that you
will have coronary artery disease.