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Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a type of heart disease caused by gradual plaque build-up in the the coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. As the plaque thickens in the arteries, a condition called arteriosclerosis begins inside the artery and it becomes narrow, thus reducing blood flow to your heart muscle. The presence of plaque will also increase the risk of blood clots forming in your arteries. Blood clots can partially or completely block blood flow and this may occur gradually or abruptly.
When your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked, oxygen-rich blood cannot reach your heart muscle. This can cause angina or a heart attack.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when there is a narrowing in a coronary artery and not enough oxygen-rich blood is flowing to an area of your heart. Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain may also may occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
A heart attack occurs when there is an abrupt blockage of a coronary artery. Complete obstruction prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching that area of the heart, causing the heart muscle to die unless you receive immediate treatment. Without quick intervention, a heart attack can lead to serious problems and even death.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure is a condition in which your heart cannot pump enough blood throughout your body. Arrhythmias are problems or changes in the rhythm of your heartbeat.
CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Lifestyle changes, medicines, and/or medical procedures can effectively prevent or treat CAD in most people.