Coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease, or simply, heart disease, affects millions of Americans. This serious condition is a result of plaque buildup in your arteries.
What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
The arteries, which start out smooth and elastic, get plaque on their inner walls, which can make them more rigid and narrowed. This restricts blood flow to your heart, which can then become starved of oxygen.
The plaque could rupture, leading to a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
How Does Coronary Artery Disease Develop?
From a young age, plaque can start to go into your blood vessel walls. As you get older, the plaque builds up. That inflames the walls and raises the risk of blood clots and heart attacks.
The plaque makes the inner walls of your blood vessels sticky. Then, other things, like inflammatory cells, lipoproteins, and calcium, travel in your bloodstream and mix with the plaque.
As more of these inflammatory cells join in, along with cholesterol, the plaque increases, both pushing the artery walls outward and growing inward. That makes the vessels narrower.
Eventually, a narrowed coronary artery may develop new blood vessels that go around the blockage to get blood to the heart. However, if you’re pushing yourself or stressed, the new arteries may not be able to bring enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can’t pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.
Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients (coronary arteries) become damaged or diseased. Cholesterol-containing deposits (plaque) in your arteries and inflammation are usually to blame for coronary artery disease.
To find out your risk for CAD, your health care team may measure your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Being overweight, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and smoking tobacco are risk factors for CAD. A family history of heart disease also increases your risk for CAD. If you’re at high risk for heart disease or already have symptoms, your doctor can use several tests to diagnose CAD.
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