What It Is
Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when plaque — fatty deposits made up of cholesterol, calcium, fat, and other cellular waste products — build up inside of coronary arteries and reduce the flow of blood to the heart. If the surface of the plaque breaks, platelets arrive at the site to repair the artery wall, which can cause a blood clot. This blockage can incite a heart attack. Over time, CAD can develop into congestive heart failure, as well as produce arrhythmias. Risk factors, include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high sugar levels (diabetes), obesity, lack of physical activity, stress, stroke, sleep apnea, and increasing age.
Chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, lightheadedness or fainting, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, cold sweat
An abundance of medications are available for treatment, including anticoagulants, aspirin, and other antiplatelet medicines. Doctors may also prescribe ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers, or cholesterol-modifying meds like statins, niocin, and fibrater. Bile acid sequestrants and supplements high in omega-3 fatty acids are also used.
Surgical options include:
Angioplasty: Aimed at improving blood flow by opening blocked or narrowed arteries, surgeons thread a thin tube (catheter) attached to a deflated balloon through the blood vessel. Once inside the artery, the balloon is inflated to clear the artery of plaque so it is open to allow blood to pass easily. A mesh tube, also known as a stent, may be placed within the artery to ensure that it remains open.
Coronary artery bypass surgery: This procedure reroutes blood around clogged arteries to improve oxygen and blood flow to the heart. A surgeon will take healthy blood vessels from another area of the body to create the detour. Depending on the number of clogged arteries, a patient may have more than one graft done during the surgery.
Living With Coronary Artery Disease
To better manage CAD, aim to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, limit or discontinue alcohol use, reduce your stress level, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet.