Coronary artery disease, sometimes called coronary heart disease, is a condition in which fatty deposits known as plaque begin to build up in the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This process of plaque buildup typically occurs over time and is referred to as atherosclerosis. Like a dam in a river, the plaque ultimately restricts the flow of blood to the heart, which causes the heart to work harder. The result can ultimately be angina (chest pain), a heart attack or other problems.
As the heart works harder to pump blood through the body, it can become weak over time. This makes coronary artery disease a risk factor for other heart diseases, as well. As the heart weakens, an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) becomes a possibility. Eventually, heart failure can also occur.
Causes of Coronary Artery Disease
Many researchers agree that a number of the risk factors that can lead to coronary artery disease are preventable. It’s true that the risk increases as a person ages, but many of the causes of age-related coronary artery disease are due to modifiable lifestyle factors. For example, obesity is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, as are smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure. Not exercising enough can put you at risk, and eating an unhealthy diet high in fat and cholesterol can also contribute to the development of coronary artery disease.
Treatment and Prevention
If coronary artery disease is advanced and putting a person's health at risk, procedures may be used to either open up clogged arteries (angioplasty) or bypass them altogether (coronary artery bypass graft surgery).
To prevent coronary artery disease, treat mild coronary artery disease or recover after it's treated, a number of healthy lifestyle changes are often recommended. These include eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, managing stress and exercising, among others.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; American Heart Association