Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What is coronary artery disease (CAD)?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common heart disease diagnosed in the country and the number one killer of men and women. CAD caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can block or impede the normal flow of blood through the vessels.
What causes coronary artery disease?
Arterial plaque is made up of cholesterol, collagen, and other lipids and fibrous tissues. Over the course of a person’s life, often beginning in youth, these plaques begin to build up in the arteries. Under normal circumstances, plaque buildup occurs slowly over time; however, it can often be exacerbated and the rate of buildup increased as a result of poor dietary habits, smoking, lack of exercise, and a genetic predisposition or family history of CAD. High blood pressure and high cholesterol also contribute to the progression of CAD.
What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease is known as a “silent killer” because initial symptoms may be so mild that they go unnoticed. One of the first symptoms many patients notice is angina, or chest pain. This pain may be mild at first, and experienced as a heartburn-like sensation, or a tightness or pressure in the chest; angina may also be felt as pain in the back, arm, shoulder or neck. Patients may also experience shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness, all of which are the result of the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to the body.
Left untreated, these symptoms will tend to get worse over time. A completely blocked coronary artery may cause a heart attack. The symptoms of heart attack also vary, but may include sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, a crushing pain in the chest, and pain in the shoulder or arm.
Please click here for more information on heart attack warning signs and treatment.
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
Your Hurley cardiologist will begin by conducting a full physical examination to assess your general health, your lifestyle conditions, and factors that might be contributing to the progression of CAD. Your physician will likely test your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and conduct a number of other tests, including blood tests, x-rays, exercise stress tests, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG), and cardiac perfusion scans, among others.
How is coronary artery disease treated?
Treatment options for coronary artery disease will depend upon the severity of the specific symptoms you are experiencing, the underlying cause of the plaque buildup, and the progression of the disease. Initial treatment options focus on lifestyle changes such as appropriate diet and eating habits, increased exercise, and smoking cessation, among other changes. Medications may be prescribed to return blood pressure and cholesterol to normal levels, and a low-dose aspirin regimen may be used to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Other drugs, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and nitroglycerine can also help improve blood flow and reduce symptoms.
For more advanced cases, angioplasty, stents and other minimally invasive surgical treatments may be recommended to reopen partially or fully blocked blood vessels. Coronary bypass surgery may be recommended in order to re-route blood flow past damaged or blocked arteries. Your Hurley cardiologist will review these and other treatment options with you so that, together, you can determine the best course of action.