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

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 »

Medication management for CAD

People with heart disease often are prescribed a number of medications. Learning what each one is for and which side effects they may cause and remembering to take them on schedule can be a daunting task. Support is needed from the prescribing physician, from caregivers, and from family and friends. Tools—some as old-fashioned as wall calendars, some as new as mobile phone apps and smart pillboxes—can help people properly take and track the heart medications they need. (Locked) More »

Bypass or angioplasty with stenting: How do you choose?

Up to a third of people with coronary artery disease have blockages in all three of the arteries that feed the heart muscle. For them, bypass surgery usually is the best treatment option. For those with a blockage only in the LAD, the coronary artery that feeds the entire front of the heart, bypass is also the best treatment. But when the LAD isn’t involved, blockage in one or even two of the other coronary arteries usually is treated with balloon angioplasty to widen the artery and placement of a mesh tube called a stent to hold it open. More »

Blood type associated with risk

Type O blood is associated with the lowest risk of coronary artery disease. People with type A, B, and AB have risks 5%, 10%, and 23% higher than those with type O, respectively. (Locked) More »

Is angioplasty right for you?

Although nearly 80% of people who undergo angioplasty and stenting discuss the procedure with their doctor, less than 20% are told about possible drawbacks, and only 10% are told about other options. This is worrisome, because surgery or drug therapy may be a better option for some. People with coronary artery disease are encouraged to make an informed decision by asking their doctor to explain the potential benefits and risks of the recommended procedure, whether there are alternatives, and how the benefits and risks of the options compare. (Locked) More »