Coronary Artery Disease: Everything You Need to Know

Coronary artery disease, also called ischemic heart disease, occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become damaged or diseased.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Every year, more than 600,000 Americans die from CAD. But what is coronary artery disease, exactly? And what can you do to protect yourself from it? In this blog post, we will discuss everything you need to know about coronary artery disease!

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease, occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become damaged or diseased.

What causes coronary artery disease?

The most common cause of CAD is atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque (a fatty substance made up of cholesterol and fat) builds up on the walls of the arteries. Plaque narrows the arteries and makes it harder for blood to flow through them. When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it can reduce or block the blood flow to your heart muscle, which can lead to chest pain (angina), a heart attack, or even death.

When a blood clot cuts off the heart’s blood supply and causes permanent heart damage, about 80 percent of all heart attacks occur. Over time, CAD can also weaken the cardiac muscle and cause heart failure and arrhythmias.

Risk factors for CAD

Risk factors for CAD include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of CAD
  • Age (CAD is more common in older adults)
  • Being male (men are more likely to develop CAD than women)
  • Lack of activity
  • Overweight
  • Unhealthy eating

Your doctor may check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels to assess your risk of CAD.

What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?

The most common symptom of CAD is chest pain or discomfort, which is often referred to as angina. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart. Other symptoms of CAD can include shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, and irregular heartbeats.

How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam and a review of your medical history. They may also order one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: These tests can check for certain substances in your blood that may be signs of CAD.
  • ECG (electrocardiogram): This test measures the electrical activity of your heart and can show if you have CAD.
  • Stress test: This test is usually done along with an EKG. During a stress test, you will exercise on a treadmill or bike while your heart is monitored.
  • Angiogram: During a cardio angiogram, a dye is injected into your arteries so that they can be seen on an X-ray.
  • Cardiac MRI: This test uses magnetic waves to create images of your heart.
  • Cardiac CT scan: This test uses X-rays to create detailed images of your heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This test is usually done if your doctor thinks you may need surgery or a procedure to open blocked arteries. During cardiac catheterization, a long, thin tube is inserted through an artery in your leg or arm and threaded into your heart.

How is coronary artery disease treated?

Treatment for CAD depends on the severity of the disease and how well you respond to treatment. Treatment options can include lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.

Making lifestyle changes

If you have CAD, making lifestyle changes is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of CAD and improve your overall health. Some lifestyle changes you may need to make include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit alcohol consumption


There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat CAD. The type of medication you will need depends on the severity of your CAD. Medications used to treat CAD can include:

  • Aspirin
  • Beta-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Nitrates
  • Statins


If lifestyle changes and medication don’t improve your CAD, you may need surgery. Surgery options for CAD include:

  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG): Coronary artery bypass surgery involves taking a healthy blood vessel from another part of your body and using it to bypass the blocked coronary artery.
  • Angioplasty and stenting: This surgery involves opening the blocked artery and placing a stent (a small metal tube) in the artery to keep it open.
  • Heart transplant: This surgery is an option for people with end-stage CAD who are not candidates for other treatment options.

If you have CAD, it’s important to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that is right for you. With treatment, you can live a long and healthy life.


If CAD is not treated, it can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to your heart is blocked, and the heart muscle is damaged. A heart attack can be fatal. Other complications of CAD can include arrhythmias, heart failure, and stroke.

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