Coronary Artery Disease | Heart & Vascular | Loyola Medicine

Coronary Artery Disease

Overview and Facts about Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when the major blood vessels that supply the heart become damaged or diseased. When they’re healthy, these blood vessels deliver blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your heart and body.

Coronary artery disease often develops slowly over decades as cholesterol-based deposits (called plaque) build up on the interior of your arteries, slowing blood flow. Over time, the impacts of this heart condition can lead to significant blockages or a heart attack.

Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

As plaque builds up on your arteries, your body no longer supplies enough blood and oxygen to your heart. Although this may not cause noticeable symptoms right away, as the disease progresses you may experience:

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
  • Heart attack signs, including severe chest pain, pain in the left arm or jaw, and sweating

Causes and Risk Factors of Coronary Artery Disease

Like other heart conditions, coronary artery disease often results from a combination of factors. Some of these can include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Although anyone can develop coronary heart disease, certain risk factors have been identified. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing heart conditions, including coronary artery disease. Some of the most common risk factors include:

  • Old age
  • A family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Metabolic conditions such as thyroid conditions and type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • High stress levels

Tests and Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease

If your doctor suspects that you may have coronary artery disease, they will perform a thorough physical exam and family history. To confirm or rule out the diagnosis, they may require certain procedures and testing. These could include:

Treatment and Care for Coronary Artery Disease

If you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, your doctor will work to lower your risk of a heart attack, and slow the progress of the disease. In many cases, this can be accomplished through lifestyle changes like:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising regularly
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing stress

In some advanced cases, medications may be necessary. Depending on your specific situation, your doctor may recommend a medication that lowers your cholesterol, or thins your blood. Other medications your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Ranolazine
  • Nitroglycerin
  • ACE inhibitors

In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to help improve the flow of blood to your heart. The two most common treatments include a coronary artery stent, which opens the artery to allow more blood to flow through; the other type of surgery is a coronary bypass surgery, where the doctor uses an artery from your leg to bypass a blockage near the heart.