Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. The buildup of plaque occurs over many years.

Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form on its surface. A large blood clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.

Other names include "hardening" or "narrowing" of the arteries, and ischemic heart disease.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
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  • Coronary artery disease can lead to angina, heart attack, heart failure, and heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
  • Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. It's the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.
  • Many factors raise the risk of developing CAD. Major risk factors include unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking, insulin resistance, diabetes, overweight or obesity, metabolic syndrome, lack of physical activity, age, and a family history of early heart disease.
  • Common symptoms of CAD are angina and shortness of breath. However, some people have no signs or symptoms. This is called silent CAD. It may not be diagnosed until a person shows signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia.
  • Treatment for CAD may include lifestyle changes, medicines, and medical procedures. Lifestyle changes include following a heart healthy eating plan, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and reducing stress.
  • Taking action to control your risk factors can help prevent or delay CAD. You can take action by making lifestyle changes and/or taking medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you've been diagnosed with CAD, you can control the disease with lifestyle changes and medicines. See your doctor regularly, and call him or her if you develop any new symptoms or your symptoms become more severe.

Reference: The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHBLI)

Last updated March 31, 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

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