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

Abnormal rhythms of the atria

Several kinds of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) occur in the heart's upper chambers (the atria). These include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, atrial tachycardia, and paroxysmal atrial tachycardia or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disturbance. More than 2.5 million Americans have it. Instead of forcefully contracting in a coordinated manner, the walls of the left and right atria quiver and do not effectively pump blood into the ventricles. Sometimes atrial fibrillation comes and goes, and sometimes it stays constant. As with many heart rhythm abnormalities, atrial fibrillation is often caused by coronary artery disease. More »

Angina: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatments

Angina (pronounced ANN-juh-nuh or ann-JIE-nuh) is pain in the chest that comes on with exercise, stress, or other things that make the heart work harder. It is an extremely common symptom of coronary artery disease, which is caused by cholesterol-clogged coronary arteries. This is the network of arteries that nourish the heart muscle. Heart disease isn't the only cause of chest pain. Others include tension in the muscles of the chest, heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux), pericarditis, and pleurisy. So it's important to be able to tell the difference between angina and other types of chest pain, because they are treated differently and have different long-term effects on health. Knowing that your chest pain is not angina can be very reassuring. Angina tends to appear during physical activity, emotional stress, or exposure to cold temperatures, or after big meals. Symptoms of angina include: More »

Sizing up 'superfoods' for heart health

“Superfoods” are rich in heart-healthy nutrients such as soluble fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids that can help keep your arteries clear. They include oatmeal, oranges, beans, spinach, kale, salmon, extra-virgin olive oil, quinoa, avocados, nuts, berries, and dark chocolate. But experts say it’s best to eat a wide range of fresh, unprocessed foods, which will give you a combination of nutrients and micronutrients that occur together in food. More »

Vitamin and mineral supplements: Do you need them?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has found insufficient evidence to recommend vitamin or mineral supplements for the purpose of disease prevention. However, for many women, taking a daily multivitamin may help fill in dietary gaps. Certain supplements, including vitamin D, still need further study to determine how they might improve health. (Locked) More »

Obesity as a cardiovascular disease: Time to take your BMI seriously

With the recent designation of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association and new guidelines on obesity treatment, BMI may become a commonly assessed vital sign for determining cardiovascular risk in the same way that blood pressure and blood sugar measurements are currently used.  (Locked) More »

The new strategy for statins: Should you be taking one?

The decision to prescribe a cholesterol-lowering statin has long been based on an individual’s cholesterol level. New guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology now recommend basing the decision on an individual’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. In addition, the new guidelines no longer stipulate target levels of harmful LDL cholesterol when taking a statin.  More »

Ask the doctor: Carotid artery narrowing

Narrowing of the carotid arteries can restrict blood flow to the brain and increase the risk of stroke. Treatments include surgery or stent placement, but this usually is done only if the artery is blocked by more than 70% or there are symptoms.  (Locked) More »