What is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries bring oxygen-rich blood to your heart.

When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. The buildup of plaque can take many years and, over time, the plaque can harden or break open which then narrows the arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

If the plaque breaks open, a blood clot can form on the artery’s surface. A large blood clot can partially or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery, further narrowing the arteries and reducing the amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching the heart. This can lead to:

Angina: Chest pain or discomfort. It may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also can occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion.

Heart attack: Occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle is cut off. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle starts to die. Without quick treatment, a heart attack can lead to serious health problems or death.

Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to:

Heart failure: A condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

Arrhythmias: Irregular heartbeats.

CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States; more than 400,000 Americans die from CAD each year. Lifestyle changes, medicines and medical procedures can help prevent or treat CAD. These treatments may also lower the risk of other heart-related health problems.

CAD goes by several other names including:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Heart disease
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Narrowing of the arteries
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