Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

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Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD is a disease that affects the arteries in your heart. These arteries supply oxygen and nutrients to your heart muscle. Sometimes, a fatty substance called plaque builds up along the inner walls of these arteries. This process is called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis happens slowly over many years and is caused by having too much fat and cholesterol in your blood. This excess fat is what forms plaque. Plaque buildup can make your arteries narrow, reducing blood flow to your heart.

Sometimes, the plaque will break off and enter your blood stream. This causes the body to form a blood clot. Blood clots can get stuck in an artery, completely blocking the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, or other serious problems.


Several things can damage your coronary arteries making it more likely that plaque will build up. These are called risk factors. Some of these risk factors include:

  • High levels of fat and cholesterol in your blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese, and
  • Not getting enough exercise

You're also more likely to have CAD if you're older or if someone in your family has it.


Some people with CAD don't have any symptoms at all. It can take many years to build up enough plaque in the coronary arteries to cause symptoms. You might not even know you have coronary heart disease until you have a heart attack.

If you do have symptoms from CAD, you might feel:

  • Chest pain or chest pressure that is worse with activity and gets better when you stop activities
  • Pain, pressure, or a tight feeling in your chest that moves into your shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activities or exercise, and
  • Weakness or feeling tired


To find out if you have coronary artery disease, your provider will ask you about the intensity of your symptoms and how long you've had them. He or she may order tests to help find out how serious your coronary artery disease is.

An electrocardiogram, also called ECG, is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart. It can also tell your provider if there is damage to your heart muscle.

Your provider might also recommend a stress test. This test can show how well your heart pumps blood during exercise.

You also might need a procedure called cardiac catheterization. This procedure uses dye and special X-rays to show the inside of your coronary arteries.


If your tests show that you have CAD, your provider may recommend certain lifestyle changes.

Often, lifestyle changes are enough to get your CAD under control. Some of those lifestyle changes include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and
  • Exercise to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and help you manage your weight

If these changes aren't enough, you may also need to take medication. Some medications help lower your cholesterol; others will help lower your blood pressure or prevent blood clots

You may need a procedure or surgery if your condition is more severe.

Things to Remember

Atherosclerosis is a leading cause of coronary artery disease.
Lifestyle changes can help treat CAD. They can also reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
You may need medications, procedures, or surgery to treat your disease.

What We Have Learned

Quitting smoking can help reduce your chance of having a heart attack. True or False? The answer is true. Smoking is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.

People who have coronary artery disease always have symptoms before having a heart attack. True or False? The answer is false. You might not find out that you have coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack.