Frequently Asked Questions About Coronary Artery Disease
Answers to the top questions about coronary artery disease.
Q: What is coronary artery disease?
A: Coronary arteries are blood vessels that surround the heart. They supply the heart muscle with the blood it needs to pump effectively.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked. The blood flow to the heart muscle then slows or stops. This can cause a heart attack.
You might also hear coronary artery disease referred to as:
CAD Atherosclerosis Coronary or ischemic heart disease Hardening of the arteries
Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. More than half a million Americans die from it each year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
Complications of coronary artery disease include:
Angina - chest pain and discomfort Arrhythmia - problems with the speed and rhythm of the heart Heart failure - a weakening of the heart muscle Heart attack - damage to or death of heart muscle
Q: How do the arteries become narrowed or blocked in coronary artery disease?
A: Starting early in your life, your body naturally deposits little streaks of fatty substances, such as cholesterol, on artery walls. As you age, these fatty substances can build up and form plaque. The plaque restricts blood flow. If a plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot to form, blocking blood flow. If this occurs in a blood vessel in the heart, it can cause a heart attack.
Certain things, called risk factors, make a person more likely to develop plaque.
Q: What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?
A: Some risk factors for coronary artery disease can't be changed. You have a greater chance of getting the disease if you are:
Male More than 65 years old African-American, Mexican-American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Asian-American A member of a family with a history of heart disease
However, you can control many of the risk factors for it, such as:
Smoking High cholesterol levels High blood pressure Diabetes Overweight or obesity Physical inactivity
Experts also believe that sleep apnea, stress and alcohol abuse may raise your risk of getting coronary artery disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing the disease.
Q: What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
A: Chest pain and discomfort (angina) are common symptoms of this condition. You may also feel pain spreading to your left shoulder, arms, neck, jaw or back. Another common symptom is shortness of breath. Some people experience:
Irregular or skipped heartbeats A faster heartbeat Dizziness Nausea Extreme weakness Sweating
If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1. Sadly, many people do not find out that they have coronary artery disease until after they have a heart attack.
Q: How is coronary artery disease treated?
A: Whether you are trying to prevent, delay or treat coronary artery disease, you can begin with the following lifestyle changes:
If you smoke, quit. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Low-fat, low-sodium and low-cholesterol foods will help you control high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels. Raise your level of physical activity. Always talk with your doctor before you start an exercise program. Maintain a healthy weight. If you drink, limit alcoholic beverages to two drinks a day if you're a man, one drink per day if you're a woman. Look for ways to reduce or better manage stress.
In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat coronary artery disease. He or she also might suggest a medical procedure, such as angioplasty, which opens narrowed or blocked arteries. Surgery may be needed to bypass blocked vessels.