Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary heart disease (CHD), occurs when the blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to the heart is reduced. CAD is the most common form of heart disease, and the leading cause of death for both men and women. An uncontrolled CAD can lead to a heart attack.
Causes of coronary artery disease
The most common cause of CAD is vascular injury with cholesterol plaque accumulation in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Reduced blood flow occurs when one or more of these arteries becomes partly or wholly congested.
The four primary coronary arteries located on the surface of the heart are :
- The right main coronary artery
- The left main coronary artery
- The left circumflex artery
- The left anterior descending artery
A healthy heart moves about 3,000 gallons of blood through your body every day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The arteries supply blood rich in oxygen and nutrient blood to your heart. The heart must receive a sufficient supply of blood in order to function properly.
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Symptoms of CAD
A person can begin to experience symptoms of CAD when there is reduced blood flow to the heart. The most common symptom of CAD is Angina. Symptoms may include:
- chest pain
- squeezing sensation
In some cases, these symptoms can also be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Other symptoms of CAD include:
- shortness of breath
- shoulder or arm pain
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If an obstruction cuts off blood flow completely or almost completely, the person will experience heart attack, the heart muscle will begin to die.
Symptoms of CAD for women
Though men have a higher risk of developing heart disease, women may also experience the above symptoms, but they’re also more likely to have:
Due to decreased blood flow, your heart may also:
- become weak
- develop arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms)
- fail to pump as much blood as your body requires
Risk factors for CAD
Understanding the risk factors for CAD can help with your plan to prevent or decrease the chances of developing the disease.
Risk factors include:
- high levels of blood cholesterol
- hypertension or high blood pressure
- unhealthy eating habits
- tobacco smoking
- insulin resistance/hyperglycemia/diabetesmellitus
- emotional stress
- obstructive sleep apnea
- excessive alcohol consumption
- history of preeclampsiaduring pregnancy
Also, the risk for CAD increases with age. Based on age alone as a risk factor, men have a greater risk for the disease beginning at age 45 and women have a greater risk beginning at age 55. The risk for coronary artery disease is also higher if you have a family history of the disease.
Apart from a review of your medical history and physical testing, other tests may be involved. These tests include:
- Electrocardiogram:This monitors electrical signals that travel through your heart. It may help your doctor check whether you had a heart attack.
- Echocardiogram:This imaging test uses ultrasound waves to create a picture of your heart. The results of this test reveal whether certain things in your heart are working properly.
- Stress test:This test measures the stress on your heart during physical activity and while at rest. The test monitors the electrical activity of your heart while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.
- Cardiac catheterization (left heart catheterization):This involves your doctor injecting a special dye into your coronary arteries through a catheter inserted through an artery in your groin or forearm. The dye helps improve the radiographic image of your coronary arteries to identify any blockages.
- Heart CT scan:Your doctor may use this imaging test to check for calcium deposits in your arteries.
Treatment for CAD
If you receive a CAD diagnosis, it becomes vital to reduce or control your risk factors and seek treatment to lower the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Treatment depends on your current health condition, risk factors, and general wellbeing.
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Lifestyle changes can also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. These may include:
- regular exercise
- eating a healthy diet low in sodium and fat
- quit smoking
- quit alcohol
- maintain a healthy weight
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to increase blood flow to your heart. These procedures may be:
- balloon angioplasty:This procedure expand blocked arteries and reduce the plaque accumulation, usually performed with insertion of a stent to help keep the lumen open.
- enhanced external counterpulsation:This noninvasive procedure helps to stimulate the formation of new small blood vessels to naturally bypass blocked arteries
- coronary artery bypass graft surgery:This procedure helps in restoring blood flow to the heart in open chest surgery