Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the damage, obstruction, or blockage of the coronary arteries, or the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Usually, coronary blockages are caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque containing cholesterol and fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Plaque often builds up in the blood vessels over time, making CAD difficult to diagnose until a catastrophic event occurs such as a heart attack. Signs of CAD may include chest pain and/or shortness of breath.
Image obtained from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blausen_0257_CoronaryArtery_Plaque.png
License: CC BY 3.0
Coronary artery disease is caused by damage to the inner lining of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, sometimes as early as childhood. Over time, plaque progressively builds up in the coronary arteries, especially if there is any type of damage to the blood vessels. CAD can be either obstructive, meaning plaque buildup, or nonobstructive, meaning other problems with the coronary artery such as vasospasms. Risk factors for CAD include smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or insulin resistance, lack of physical exercise, unhealthy dieting, a diet high in saturated fats, family history of heart disease, high stress, exposure to air pollution, not getting enough sleep, and having certain underlying medical conditions. Men and older individuals are at greater risk for CAD.
Coronary artery disease may lead to a heart attack if the coronary arteries are completely blocked or may lead to heart failure over time. Symptoms of coronary artery disease include…
Chest pain, pressure, or tightness - may radiate into neck, shoulder, arms, back, or jaw
Shortness of breath
Fast heart rate
CAD can be treated with certain lifestyle changes (see prevention) and certain medications such as antiplatelets, antihyperlipidemics, and antihypertensives. In some cases, procedures may be performed such as angioplasty and stent placement to help increase blood flow through the coronary arteries or a coronary artery bypass graft to reroute blood flow around blockages. Managing previous and underlying health conditions and taking all medications as prescribed is important in treating CAD.
The best way to prevent coronary artery disease is to quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, control all underlying conditions (especially high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes) by seeing a doctor regularly, maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active and get regular exercise, maintain healthy sleep patterns, reduce stress, and maintain a healthy diet low in fat, low in salt, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 09). Coronary artery disease (CAD). https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm
Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Coronary artery disease. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16898-coronary-artery-disease
John Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Coronary heart disease. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronary-heart-disease
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, June 05). Coronary artery disease. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronary-artery-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350613
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Coronary Heart Disease. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease