Coronary Artery Disease

The term "heart disease," also known as cardiovascular disease, covers a lot of ground. It's used for a variety of problems with the circulatory system, from high blood pressure to abnormal heart rhythms. Most of the time, though, when people speak of heart disease what they really mean is coronary artery disease—a narrowing of the coronary arteries. No wider than a strand of spaghetti, each coronary artery deliver bloods to hard-working heart muscle cells.

The cause of coronary artery disease is almost always atherosclerotic plaque—gooey cholesterol-filled deposits that form inside artery walls. Plaque is usually the result of an unhealthy diet, too little exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and other "insults" that damage the lining of artery walls.

When a coronary artery becomes clogged with plaque, it can't always deliver enough blood to the heart muscle cells it is supposed to supply. Sometimes this doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms. Sometimes it causes angina — chest pain that occurs with physical exertion or stress. Coronary artery disease can also be the root cause of a heart attack, or lead to the chronic condition known as heart failure.

Coronary artery disease affects millions of Americans. Once limited almost entirely to older people, it is now beginning to appear in younger folks, a change driven by the rising tides of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Coronary artery disease isn't an inevitable part of growing older. A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a healthy diet, and not smoking goes a long way to preventing it, especially when started at a young age. Lifestyle changes and medications can also reverse coronary artery disease, or at least prevent it from getting worse.

Coronary Artery Disease Articles

Fish oil drug helps shrink plaque in heart arteries

A drug made from a highly purified form of EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) appears to help reduce plaque in the heart’s arteries. This may explain why the drug, icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. More »

Our evolving understanding of the problem with plaque

New imaging techniques that use light or sound waves to create images of the inside of coronary arteries have helped researchers better understand the fat-laden plaque that builds up inside artery walls (atherosclerosis). Most heart attacks happen when small, inflamed areas of fatty plaque rupture suddenly, causing a clot that blocks blood flow. This may explain why treating large, obstructive plaques with stents or bypass surgery does not seem to prevent heart attacks or help people live longer. (Locked) More »

Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Exposure to microscopic particles called PM2.5 in air pollution may increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders. The tiny particles pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and other cell-damaging processes. Air pollution comes mainly from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles. To limit exposure, people should try to avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads or industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Calcium scan concerns

Coronary artery calcium scans tend to be quite accurate. Unlike some other imaging tests, the results are unlikely to be either falsely negative or falsely positive because the results are literally black and white (the calcium shows up as white on the scan). (Locked) More »

Sex differences in heart disease: A closer look

Heart attack symptoms tend to be pretty similar among both sexes. However, chest pain and sweating are slightly more common in men, while nausea and vomiting and shortness of breath tend to be more likely to occur in women. Heart attacks that show no evidence of a blockage in a major heart artery (known as myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries, or MINOCA) tend to occur more often in women, but about 40% of these unusual heart attacks occur in men. (Locked) More »

Can high-tech heart scans help prevent heart attacks?

Cardiac CT angiography (CCTA) is gaining ground as a fast, effective way to diagnose coronary artery disease. The noninvasive test uses multiple high-speed x-rays to create three-dimensional views of the blood vessels and structures of the heart. Unlike stress tests, CCTA can detect non-obstructive plaque, which is plaque that blocks less than half of the inner diameter of an artery and is responsible for most heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Are video calls a loneliness cure?

Doctors say connecting with loved ones and friends via video calls may help people feel less lonely and isolated. Video calls are made using applications ("apps") on a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. These apps enable users to reach people anywhere in the world. As of the spring of 2020, apps commonly used to make video calls included FaceTime, Google Duo, Snapchat, Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp. Video calls can also be used to engage in book clubs, support groups, or exercise instruction. (Locked) More »