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

Avoiding atherosclerosis: The killer you can't see

Following healthy lifestyle habits is the foundation for atherosclerosis risk reduction. Such habits include eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and controlling underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. People who are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease or who have already had a heart attack, stroke, or the diagnosis of angina or peripheral artery disease may need to take a medication called a statin to try to fend off cholesterol buildup in the arteries and shrink plaques. (Locked) More »

When do you need a heart stent?

 Image: © jauhari1/Getty Images An estimated two million people get coronary artery stents every year, and if you have coronary artery disease, there is a good chance your doctor will suggest you get one. But do you really need it? In 2013, the American Medical Association issued a report that said stents were one of the most highly overused medical interventions. (Locked) More »

High calcium score: What’s next?

 Image: © Tinpixels/Getty Images Q. I recently got a coronary artery calcium scan and the results showed that I have quite a bit of calcium in my heart arteries (my score was 900). Should I have an angiogram to confirm the results? I don't have any heart-related symptoms, but I'm worried about having a heart attack. A. That is a very high coronary artery calcium score. But the short answer to your question is no. The main reason to have an angiogram is to locate a narrowed heart artery that is causing chest pain or other symptoms. For the test, a cardiologist injects a dye that is visible on x-rays into the blood vessels of your heart, then takes a series of x-ray images. This is done in preparation for angioplasty, in which a narrowed artery is opened, or as a prelude to referral for coronary artery bypass surgery. (Locked) More »

Blockage or no blockage, take heart attacks seriously

For years, many doctors thought that heart attacks that weren’t caused by a major blockage were less serious than those that were. New research shows, however, that people who have this type of heart attack—known as a myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries (MINOCA)—are at higher risk for future cardiovascular events, and doctors should treat the condition aggressively. (Locked) More »

How atrial fibrillation may affect your brain

People with atrial fibrillation—a heart rhythm disorder that causes a rapid, irregular heart rate—may face an increase risk of thinking and memory problems. Atrial fibrillation causes blood to pool in the heart’s upper left chamber, which may form clots that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke. But tiny clots can cause silent, unnoticed strokes. Over time, these stroke gradually injure part of the brain involved with thinking and memory. (Locked) More »