Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when blockages form in the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood. This is the most common type of heart disease in the United States and is a leading cause of death in both men and women.

What causes coronary artery disease?

Arteries are blood vessels that move oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. The coronary arteries run along the surface of the heart and supply it with blood. Plaque – a waxy substance made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances – can build up in the coronary arteries and partially or totally block the flow of blood.  

Over time, coronary artery disease can weaken the heart muscle and cause heart failure or arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm or rate. It can also lead to a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow is cut off to a part of the heart.

Symptoms of coronary artery disease

Some people with coronary artery disease don’t experience symptoms until they have the signs of a heart attack or heart failure. If you do experience symptoms of coronary artery disease, you may feel:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or pain in the upper body
  • Nausea
  • Profound fatigue
  • Pain between the shoulder blades

How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose coronary artery disease by using your medical history, a physical exam and the results from several tests, including:

How is coronary artery disease treated?

Coronary artery disease can be treated through lifestyle changes, medication and medical procedures. Lifestyle changes that may prevent or treat coronary artery disease include:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Increasing your regular physical activity
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reduce stress

Blocked coronary arteries may require one of the following procedures if lifestyle changes aren’t enough:

  • Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI)
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG)