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What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Other Names for Coronary Artery Disease?
What Causes Coronary Artery Disease?
Who Is At Risk for Coronary Artery Disease?
Which Risk Factors Cannot be Modified?
Which Risk Factors Can be Modified?
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?
What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) become hardened and narrowed. The arteries harden and narrow due to buildup of a material called plaque on their inner walls. The buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque increases in size, the insides of the coronary arteries get narrower and less blood can flow through them. Eventually, blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced, and, because blood carries much-needed oxygen, the heart muscle is not able to receive the amount of oxygen it needs. Reduced or cutoff blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart muscle can result in: Angina.

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart does not get enough blood.

Heart Attack:
A heart attack happens when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. Cells in the heart muscle begin to die if they do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and contribute to: Heart failure


In heart failure, the heart can’t pump blood effectively to the rest of the body. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop. Instead, it means that the heart is failing to pump blood the way that it should.

Arrhythmias: Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart. Some can be quite serious.


Other Names for Coronary Artery Disease?
  • CAD
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart disease
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)

What Causes Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by atherosclerosis (the thickening and hardening of the inside walls of arteries). Some hardening of the arteries occurs normally as a person grows older. In atherosclerosis, plaque deposits build up in the arteries. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances from the blood. Plaque buildup in the arteries often begins in childhood. Over time, plaque buildup in the coronary arteries can:

  • Narrow the arteries. This reduces the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches the heart muscle
  • Completely block the arteries. This stops the flow of blood to the heart muscle.
  • Cause blood clots to form. This can block the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.


The illustration shows a normal artery with normal blood flow (Figure A) and an artery containing plaque buildup (Figure B).

Plaque in the arteries can be:

  • Hard and stable. Hard plaque causes the artery walls to thicken and harden. This condition is associated more with angina than with a heart attack, but heart attacks frequently occur with hard plaque.
  • Soft and unstable. Soft plaque is more likely to break open or to break off from the artery walls and cause blood clots. This can lead to a heart attack.

Who Is At Risk for Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Several factors increase the risk of developing CAD. The more risk factors you have, the greater chance you have of developing CAD. Some CAD risk factors, such as age, can't be modified, but others can.

Which Risk Factors cannot be Modified?
Age. As you get older, your risk for CAD increases.

  • In men, risk increases after age 45.
  • In women, risk increases after age 55.
Family history of early heart disease.
  • Heart disease diagnosed before age 55 in father or brother
  • Heart disease diagnosed before age 65 in mother or sister.

Which Risk Factors can be Modified?

  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Lack of physical activity

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?
The most common symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD) are:

  • Chest pain or chest discomfort (angina) or pain in one or both arms or in the left shoulder, neck, jaw, or back
  • Shortness of breath

The severity of symptoms varies widely. Symptoms may become more severe as coronary arteries become narrower due to the buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis). In some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. A heart attack happens when plaque in a coronary artery breaks apart, causing a blood clot to form and block the artery.

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Coronary Artery Disease is still the leading cause of death amongst men and women in the Western world.
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