Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.
According to a study published by the American Heart Association, 1 out of every 7 deaths is a result of CAD. That’s over 366,800 deaths in the United States every year.
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
CAD is the hardening of blood vessels, in this case, the coronary arteries, which transport blood to your heart.
There are two main coronary arteries: the right coronary artery and the left coronary artery, both of which supply oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to all four chambers of your heart.
CAD is caused by a process called atherosclerosis. This is when plaque composed of cholesterol and other substances narrows blood vessels. Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is particularly hard on the heart, forcing it to work harder and harder to pump blood as the disease progresses.
What Are Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms?
Coronary artery disease causes many health complications, some of which can result in death or permanent heart damage.
Coronary artery disease symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Non-ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI): this is a special type of heart attack which has a unique reading on an electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Shortness of breath
It’s common for patients not to experience any symptoms of CAD until it has already progressed to a dangerous stage.
Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors
Several factors attribute to your risk of CAD, although the major factors relate to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In fact, adopting healthy behaviors like good diet and exercise can lower your risk of CAD tremendously.
Coronary artery disease risk factors include:
- High sodium, low potassium diet
- Lack of exercise
- High cholesterol
- Family history
How is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?
A doctor who becomes familiar with your medical record and family history will have an easier time diagnosing a case of CAD. Many tools and techniques may be involved with diagnosing CAD.
Coronary artery disease diagnoses may include:
- Cardiac catheterization: your doctor may run a small catheter to your heart through a blood vessel in your arms, legs or torso to inject a dye. Once injected, x-ray images can be taken to pinpoint blockages in your coronary arteries.
- Echocardiogram: Using an ultrasound, your doctor can view different areas of your heart to detect any damage.
- Stress test: Your doctor may attach electrodes to your body before making your exercise to monitor electrical signals from your heart on an electrocardiogram (EKG). Another avenue is to induce heart stress with medication and monitor your heart using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan can pick up traces of calcium in your heart. Too much calcium in your heart could indicate CAD.
What Are Treatment Options for Coronary Artery Disease?
A huge part of CAD treatment is choosing a healthy behavior.
The first step is to eliminate health-damaging habits. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol.
The second step is to make small changes to your daily routine over time to accommodate a healthy living. Take a 10 to 20-minute walk every day. Eat home cooked meals with fruits and vegetables and cut down on meat, sugar and fatty foods.
Find effective ways to destress which don’t compromise your heart. A quiet space, a warm bath or a book can do wonders to elevate stress.
Coronary artery disease treatment by your doctor may include medication, and in more severe cases recommend surgery.
Medications your doctor may prescribe to you could involve some form of aspirin or beta blocker. Nitroglycerin tablets dilate your arteries to allow for greater blood flow and reduced chest pain. A statin would likely be used to reduce your cholesterol levels.
- Stent implant: this is a mesh device inserted in your coronary artery which slowly releases medication to keep the blood vessel open.
- Coronary bypass surgery: A surgeon will use a vessel from a different part of your body to graft onto your heart, so blood can flow past the blockage in your artery.
CAD is a present risk for everyone in the United States over the age of 35. If you have symptoms relating to CAD, have a doctor scan you for CAD in your next visit.
If you’re worried that you may have CAD, contact us by phone or schedule an appointment with us online. Our team of cardiologists know how to look for signs of coronary artery disease, and can give you an honest, informed opinion on your test results and what your next medical steps should be.