What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen, and nutrients. Coronary artery disease is a condition where cholesterol containing plaques accumulates in the walls of the coronary arteries. These plaques build ups may narrow your coronary arteries, causing your heart to receive less blood. Eventually, diminished blood flow may cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath or other coronary artery disease symptoms. A complete blockage can cause a heart attack. Because coronary artery disease often develops over decades, it can go virtually unnoticed until it produces a heart attack. But there’s plenty you can do to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. Start by committing to a healthy lifestyle.
What are Risk Factors for Developing Coronary Artery Disease?
- Age. Simply getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries.
- Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.
- Family history. A family history of heart disease is associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a close relative developed heart disease at an early age. Your risk is highest if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55, or your mother or a sister developed it before age 65.
- Smoking. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. The incidence of heart attack in women who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day is
- six times that of women who’ve never smoked. For men who smoke, the incidence is triple that of nonsmokers.
- High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the channel through which blood can flow.
- High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. High cholesterol can be caused by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as “bad” cholesterol. A low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as “good” cholesterol, also can promote atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
- Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with coronary artery disease and some of its risk factors, as well.
- High stress. Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for coronary artery disease.
What are Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?
If your coronary arteries become narrowed, they can’t supply enough oxygenated blood to your heart. This is especially true when it is beating hard, such as during physical activities. Initially, the restricted blood flow may not cause any coronary artery disease symptoms. As the plaques conintue to accumulate in your coronary arteries, however, you may develop coronary artery disease symptoms, including:
- Chest pain (angina). You may feel pressure or tightness in your chest, as if someone were standing on your chest. The pain, referred to as angina, is usually triggered by physical or emotional stress. It typically goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity. In some people, especially women, this pain may be fleeting or sharp and noticed in the abdomen, back or arm.
- Shortness of breath. If your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, you may develop shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with exertion.
- Heart attack. If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, you may have a heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing pressure in your chest and pain in your shoulder or arm, sometimes with shortness of breath and sweating. Women are somewhat more likely than men are to experience less typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack, including nausea and back or jaw pain. Sometimes a heart attack occurs without any apparent signs or symptoms.
What Diagnostic Tests are Available for Coronary Artery Disease?
Prior to proceeding with diagnostic tests, your physician will review your symptoms, medical history, and examination findings. You may be referred for one or more of the tests noted below for additional evaluation.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Stress test
- Cardiac catheterization
- Cardiac CT scan
- Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)
Please refer to Service and Procedure section for addition informations on above tests.
What are some of the Treatment Options Available for Coronary Artery Disease?
Treatment for coronary artery disease usually involves combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and if necessary, certain medical procedures.
Making a commitment to the following healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way toward promoting healtier arteries:
- Quit smoking
- Eat healthy foods
- Exercise regularly
- Lose excess weight
- Reduce stress
Various drugs can be used to treat coronary artery disease, including:
- Cholesterol-modifying medications
- Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme
- Calcium Channel Blocker
Sometimes more aggressive treatment is needed to restore and improve blood flow in your coronary arteries.
- Angioplasty and Stent Placement. In this procedure, your doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the narrowed part of your artery. A wire with a deflated balloon is passed through the catheter to the narrowed area. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the deposits against your artery walls. A stent is often left in the artery to help keep the artery open. Some stents slowly release medication to help keep the artery open.
- Coronary artery bypass surgery. A surgeon creates a graft to bypass blocked coronary arteries using a vessel from another part of your body. This allows blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed coronary artery. Because this requires open-heart surgery, it’s most often reserved for cases of multiple narrowed coronary arteries.