Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD or atherosclerosis of the heart) is a disease where atherosclerotic plaques, or hard deposits made of blood cells, calcium, cholesterol and tissues form in the arteries that supply blood to the heart's muscle or myocardium. These blocked arteries can also become brittle and prone to damage.

The heart's muscles need a lot of oxygen to function properly. When arteries or blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood are blocked, it may cause damage to the heart muscle (especially to the left ventricle of the heart, which pumps blood to the rest of the body).

Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart attack or myocardial infarction.

Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

The symptoms of coronary artery disease include:

  • Chest pain or angina under the breast bone
  • Chest pain that worsens with stress or physical exertion, but goes away with rest
  • Pain that runs into the neck , jaw, throat and arms

Consult your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms, especially for men over the age of 40. CAD is a serious condition, and can cause damage to the heart if not treated immediately - total blockage of coronary artery can occur in as little as 15 minutes.

The symptoms of CAD can sometimes be vague or even absent before death occurs. Indeed, about 25% of people who die of this disease never have any symptom.


To diagnose CAD, your doctor may perform the following tests:

  • ECG or electrocardiogram
  • Coronary angiography or x-ray study to visualize the arterial blockage

Who Gets It?

Coronary artery disease is about eight times more common in men than in women for those under 40 years of age. However, with increasing age, the risk in women increases - at around 70, the risk of developing CAD is equal for men and women.

Because of this difference, it is theorized that the female sex hormone estrogen, which increases the HDL cholestrol level (the "good cholesterol") and prostaglandin, which dilate the blood vessel and prevent blood clots, may play a role in reducing the risk of coronary artery disease in younger women.


It is best to prevent rather than treat coronary artery disease. Prevention of CAD include:

  • Quit smoking.
    Cigarette smoking alters the LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") and cause it to become more likely to form plaques.

  • Lose weight and exercise
    Being overweight is a risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. Eating a healthier diet is also a prerequisite for preventing CAD.

  • Reduce stress

Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease treatment includes:

  • Nitroglycerin tablet
    Given sublingually (placed under the tongue), nitroglycerin can help relieve chest pain or angina.

  • Coronary angioplasty or balloon dilation
    In this procedure, a catheter tube is threaded into the artery of the heart and a small baloon is inflated to enlarge the vessel at the point of plaque buildup. A wire stent can then be inserted to "prop" open the artery and permit blood to flow.

  • Heart bypass surgery or coronary bypass grafting
    In this surgical procedure, a surgeon "bypasses" a blocked artery by grafting another blood vessel from the chest or leg.

Surgery is the preferred treatment option for those who have:

  • 50% blockage or more in the left main coronary artery
  • Three blocked coronary arteries
  • Chest pain or angina after a heart attack

It is important to note that lifestyle and diet changes follow these treatments. Without them, the atherosclerotic plaque buildup will continue, and further blockage (or new blockage in the bypass arteries) will develop.


The prognosis for those treated with coronary artery disease is good. Over 90% of those treated are alive after 5 years without any chest pain.

What is Coronary Artery Disease? - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Coronary Disease - Medline Plus

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