Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) restricts blood flow in your coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle. In most cases, it is due to cholesterol and other substances that build up in your arteries and narrow them. The most common symptom of this condition is chest pain (angina). If you are not treating this condition it may lead to myocardial infarctions, heart failure, or arrhythmia. Fortunately, different treatment options are available.

What is CAD?

This health condition is also called a “silent killer” because a person may have this heart disease for many years with no symptoms. CAD usually happens when coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Thus, these arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Additionally, other names for CAD are coronary heart disease (CHD) and ischemic heart disease.

What are the types of Coronary Artery Disease?

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome – This type of CAD is a sudden form and it is a medical emergency. Thus, sudden ruptures form a blood clot, block blood flow to your heart muscle, and commonly provoke myocardial infarction.
  • Stable Ischemic Heart Disease – This type is a chronic form of CAD. The coronary arteries gradually narrow over time. Therefore, your heart receives less oxygen-rich blood. You may not feel any symptoms but you will not be able to live day to day.

Symptoms and Causes

In most cases, people with this condition do not face any symptoms for a long time. Plaques that build up in your arteries may take many years or even decades. The following usually means that your arteries and narrowed and your heart is pumping harder. Check below some symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) – if you experience CAD, you may feel short of breath during light physical activity.
  • Stable angina – Temporary chest pain or discomfort is one of the most common symptoms of coronary artery disease. It is experienced usually during emotional distress or physical activity.

In some cases, a heart attack is the first symptom of CAD.

Atherosclerosis commonly provokes CAD. In this condition, a gradual build-up of plaque in the arteries occurs. Commonly, this plaque consists of waste products, calcium, fibrin, cholesterol, and others.

Risk Factors

Some lifestyle changes and medicines may help to manage some of them. For example:

  • If you are a man older than 45 or a woman over 55 you are at increased risk of developing CAD
  • Family history
  • Eating many saturated fats or refined carbohydrates
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Sleeping problems (such as sleep apnea)
  • Using tobacco products
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High LDL cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol
  • High triglycerides in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Anemia
  • Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • A body mass index (BMI) higher than 25
  • Early menopause (before age 40)
  • Endometriosis
  • Use of hormonal birth control

Talk with a healthcare provider for more details.


In most cases, myocardial infarction is the complication of CAD and this emergency may be fatal. Over time, coronary artery disease weakens your heart and it may lead to some complications. For example:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia (such as atrial fibrillation)


Healthcare providers usually use physical exams and tests to diagnose this health condition. Check below examples of physical exams:

  • Listen to your heart with a stethoscope
  • Symptoms you experience
  • The doctor will ask you about your lifestyle and medical history

Additionally, your physician may direct you to do some tests to determine your heart function and diagnose CAD. Examples include:

  • Coronary calcium scan
  • Echocardiogram (echo)
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)
  • Exercise stress test
  • Chest X-ray
  • Heart MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Computed tomography (CT) coronary angiogram
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Blood tests

Finally, your doctor will collect all this information and can identify your risk for heart disease.


CAD treatment usually includes lifestyle changes, risk factor management, medicines, therapies, and others. In some severe cases, a patient may need surgery. Check below some examples:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Quit smoking
  • Adopt a healthy diet including low sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar food.
  • Regular Exercise (30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week)
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages

Risk Factor Management

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Having a BMI elevated than 25

Managing these health problems may help to reduce the risk of CAD.


Your healthcare provider may prescribe one or more medicines at the same time. These drugs will help to lessen the symptoms and treat coronary artery disease. Examples include:

  • Hypertension medicines
  • Cholesterol drugs
  • Nitroglycerin and Ranolazine help to manage stable angina
  • Blood clots medicines (such as Warfarin)

Surgery and Procedures

There are some procedures and surgeries that can help in the CAD treatment. However, these are used in the severe cases of heart disease. Check below some of them:

  • Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) – This surgery helps to restore blood flow to your heart by creating a new path for your blood flow around blockages.
  • Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) – This minimally invasive procedure is also called coronary angioplasty. It helps to reopen your blocked arteries. Physicians may insert a stent that helps to keep your arteries open.

Adverse Effects of the Treatment

All medicines may give you some adverse effects during treatment. Examples include:

  • Infection
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Coronary artery puncture
  • Blood clot
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding
  • Diarrhea

Immediately, contact your healthcare professional if you experience any of the adverse reactions listed above or any other effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can coronary artery disease be prevented?

Not always but some risk factors are under your control. Managing risk factors may help even if you experience CAD, it will be not severe form. For example:

  • Stop smoking and all tobacco use
  • Get enough sleep
  • Adopt a healthy and nutritious diet
  • It is advised to maintain a healthy weight
  • Learn your risk for heart disease
  • Avoid alcoholic drink use
  • Regular exercise
  • Administer your medicines exactly as prescribed by your healthcare professional

What questions should I ask my physician?

Check below some questions that you should ask your doctor if the disease has not been diagnosed:

  • What medicines would lower my risk, and what are the side effects?
  • How long do I need to stay on these drugs?
  • How can I lower my risk?
  • What are my risk factors for CAD?
  • Are lifestyle changes important in coronary artery disease management?

Is it CAD genetic?

In most cases, family history affects your risk of CAD. However, genetic factors are not under your control and you have nothing to do. Despite your efforts, you may experience CAD anyway but risk factor management can help to lessen the symptoms and help in the condition treatment. Consult with your doctor for more details.

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