Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease, is a condition characterized by the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. This narrowing or blockage is typically caused by the buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis) consisting of cholesterol, fat, and other substances within the walls of the arteries.
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension): High blood pressure increases the workload on the heart and can lead to the thickening and narrowing of the arteries.
- High cholesterol levels: Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
- Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that damage blood vessels and can accelerate the development of atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing coronary artery disease due to factors such as high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and other metabolic abnormalities.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing other risk factors for coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of regular physical activity can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels, all of which are risk factors for coronary artery disease.
- Family history: Individuals with a family history of coronary artery disease are at higher risk themselves, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the condition.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease can vary but often include chest pain or discomfort (angina), shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. In some cases, the first symptom of coronary artery disease is a heart attack, which occurs when a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, depriving a portion of the heart muscle of oxygen.
Treatment for coronary artery disease aims to reduce symptoms, prevent complications, and improve overall heart health. This may include lifestyle modifications (such as diet and exercise), medications (such as statins to lower cholesterol and antiplatelet drugs to prevent blood clots), medical procedures (such as angioplasty and stent placement to open blocked arteries), and in severe cases, coronary artery bypass surgery to reroute blood flow around blocked arteries.