What is Coronary Artery Disease and How Do You Treat It?

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
December 6, 2022

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. While age and genetics play a role in its development, there are lifestyle modifications you can make to decrease your risk. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition that happens when the coronary artery becomes blocked. A plaque buildup causes this blockage; a substance made up of fat and cholesterol. The plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis prevents the healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Without enough oxygen; over time this can weaken the heart.  This eventually leads to heart failure. Heart Failure is a condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body to meet the body's needs. When the plaque that blocks the normal flow of blood through your coronary artery bursts, it can increase your risk of a heart attack. This is because the plaque rupture signals the body to repair the artery. Blood cells called platelets will attempt to patch the affected area, forming a blood clot.

The body’s cardiovascular system is an intricate network of vessels that carry blood through the body. It is responsible for providing blood to all the body’s tissues so they can function optimally. It also serves to rid the body of waste products. At the center of the cardiovascular system is the heart. It is a powerhouse organ that pumps blood to the lungs to get oxygen. It then sends the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the larger vessels called the arteries. The veins, which are smaller blood vessels, function by carrying deoxygenated blood back to the heart; then, this repeats the circulatory process. The coronary arteries, which wrap around the outside of the heart, are critical vessels because they carry oxygenated blood to the heart. 

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

If you searched “what is coronary artery disease,” one of the first things you’d discover is that it’s a progressive disease. This means Coronary artery disease often develops over many years. As a result, the symptoms of the disease may go unnoticed until the plaque build-up becomes so great that it causes a heart attack. Lifestyle modifications can go a long way in reducing your risk of heart disease. 

Coronary artery disease risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Smoking— this includes breathing in secondhand smoke.
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • High blood pressure— untreated high blood pressure can cause arterial stiffness. 
  • High cholesterol— High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood can increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Not enough good cholesterol (HDL) can also lead to atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease. Having long-term kidney disease increases the risk of coronary artery disease. Here is the most common symptoms of kidney failure you should look out for.
  • Overweight or obesity— excess body weight can lead to type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. 
  • A sedentary lifestyle— a lack of exercise links to many risk factors associated with coronary artery disease.
  • Poor diet— foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, salt, and sugar can increase the risk of coronary artery disease.

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms: What To Watch For 

Coronary artery disease symptoms may go unnoticed at first due to the nature of the disease. The coronary arteries continue to narrow over time. As lower volumes of blood get to the heart, symptoms may appear more frequently or intensely. The most common coronary artery disease signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Chest pain (angina) may be a sensation of pressure or tightness in the chest. 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Heart attack— the classic signs of a heart attack include chest pain, shoulder or arm pain, inability to catch a breath, and profuse sweating. 

The good news? Many of the coronary artery disease treatment modalities can also help with prevention. Or, at the very least, they can slow the progression of the disease, minimizing the number and severity of symptoms you may experience. Our experts at South Valley Vascular can help you understand what is going on with your body and diagnose and treat your vascular conditions.