Coronary artery disease (CAD) or coronary heart disease diminishes blood flow in the arteries that provide blood to the heart. CAD is the most common form of heart disease and affects around 16.5 million Americans over the age of 20.(1)
It is the major cause of death in the United States for both men and women.It’s estimated that every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.
A heart attack can occur from uncontrolled CAD.
Causes of coronary artery disease
The most common cause of CAD is vascular injury with cholesterol plaque formation in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. It causes lowering of blood flow when one or more of these arteries becomes partially or completely blocked.
The four main coronary arteries are located on the surface of the heart:
- right main coronary artery
- left main coronary artery
- left circumflex artery
- left anterior descending artery
These arteries supply oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to your heart. Your heart is a muscle that’s responsible for pumping blood into your whole body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy heart pumps around 3,000 gallons of blood through your body every day.
Like any other organ or muscle, your heart must receive an adequate, constant supply of blood in order to perform its function. Reduced blood flow to your heart can lead to symptoms of CAD.
Other rare causes of damage or obstruction to a coronary artery also reduces blood flow to the heart.
Symptoms of Coronary artery disease
When your heart doesn’t get required arterial blood, you may notice a variety of symptoms. Angina (chest discomfort and pain) is the most common symptom of CAD. Some people describe this discomfort as:
- chest pain
Other symptoms of CAD are:
You may feel more symptoms when your blood flow is more restricted. If the blood flow blocked completely or almost completely, your heart muscle will begin to die if not restored. This is a heart attack.
Don’t ignore any of these symptoms, particularly if they are very intense or last longer than five minutes. Urgent medical treatment is essential.
Symptoms of Coronary artery disease for women
Women may also experience the above symptoms, but they’re also feel other symptoms which includes:
Due to reduced blood flow, your heart may also:
- become weak
- develop irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmia) or rates
- unable to pump as much blood as your body needs
Your doctor will determine these heart abnormalities during diagnosis.
Risk factors for Coronary artery disease
Understanding the risk factors for CAD can help with your plan to prevent or reduce the chances of developing the disease.
Risk factors include:
- high blood pressure
- increased blood cholesterol levels
- tobacco smoking
- insulin resistance/hyperglycemia/diabetes mellitus
- unhealthy diet
- obstructive sleep apnea
- emotional stress
- excessive alcohol intake
- history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
The risk for CAD also increases with age. Based on age alone as a risk factor, men are at higher risk for the disease starting at age 45 and women have a greater risk starting at age 55. You also have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease if you have a family history of the disease.
Diagnosing Coronary artery disease
- Electrocardiogram: This test monitors electrical signals that travel through your heart. It may help your doctor to find out whether you’ve had a heart attack.
- Echocardiogram: This imaging test uses ultrasound waves to make an image of your heart. The results of this test reveal whether certain things in your heart are functioning correctly.
- Stress test: This especial test measures the stress on your heart during physical activity and during rest. The test monitors your heart’s electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Nuclear imaging may also be done for a portion of this test. For those unable to do physical exercise, certain medications can be used instead for stress testing.
- Cardiac catheterization (left heart catheterization): During this process, your doctor injects a special dye into your coronary arteries with the help of a catheter inserted through an artery in your groin or forearm. The dye helps enhance the radiographic image of your coronary arteries to find out any obstructions.
- Heart CT scan: Your doctor may perform this imaging test to check for calcium deposits in your arteries.
Treatment for Coronary artery disease?
It’s necessary to decrease or control your risk factors and go for treatment to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, if you’re diagnosed with CAD. Treatment also depends on your current health condition, risk factors, and overall wellbeing. For example, your doctor may suggest medication therapy to treat high cholesterol or hypertention, or you may receive medication to control blood sugar if you have diabetes.
Lifestyle changes can also lower your chances of developing heart disease and stroke. For example:
- quit smoking tobacco
- lower or stop your consumption of alcohol
- exercise regularly
- lose weight to a healthy level
- take a healthy diet (low in fat, low in sodium)
If your condition doesn’t improve with improving lifestyle changes and medication, your doctor may suggest a procedure to increase blood flow to your heart. These procedures include:
- balloon angioplasty: to widen blocked arteries and smash down the plaque buildup, often done with placement of a stent to help keep the lumen open after the procedure
- coronary artery bypass graft surgery: to bring back blood flow to the heart in open chest surgery
- enhanced external counterpulsation: to stimulate the formation of new small blood vessels to naturally bypass blocked arteries in a noninvasive process
Outlook for Coronary artery disease?
Everyone’s interpretation for CAD is different. You have better chances of preventing extensive damage to your heart the earlier you can begin your treatment or adapt lifestyle changes.
It is necessary to follow your doctor’s instructions. Take medications as prescribed and make the suggested lifestyle changes. If you have a greater risk for CAD, you can help to prevent the disease by lowering your risk factors.