What is CAD ?

Coronary artery disease, or heart disease, is defined as the abnormal build-up of hardened cholesterol and plaque that narrows the heart arteries and limits blood flow to the myocardium. It leads to acute coronary syndrome and heart attack when blood flow through a heart artery is suddenly blocked. CAD is the leading cause of death in the United States affecting over 16 million people and causing more than 600,000 deaths per year. You should be aware of the risk factors for this specific heart illness because reducing or controlling risk factors that can be modified reduces your risk of developing this disease as you age and progression of disease that has already developed.

CAD is the leading cause of death in the United States affecting over 16 million people

Risk factors include:

  • Men over 45 years of age, women over 55 years of age

  • Family history of atherosclerotic heart disease in a first degree relative (parent or sibling) at a young age

  • High blood pressure

  • Tobacco use

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Stress

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Diagnosis of Atherosclerotic Heart Disease

It is often diagnosed after someone presents to a healthcare provider or emergency department with classic symptoms that include chest pain or discomfort that is can be accompanied by shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, or arm or jaw discomfort. It is not unusual for someone with heart disease to complain of atypical or unusual symptoms such as abdominal discomfort or heart burn that moves into the neck or throat.

Special tests that may be ordered for evaluation when heart disease is suspected include an electrocardiogram (EKG), an echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart, and cardiac stress testing. Cardiac catheterization or coronary angiography that allows very sensitive visualization of the coronary arteries and assessment for blockages is performed when the suspicion of CAD is increased due to highly suggestive symptoms or past medical history, acute heart attack, or positive cardiac stress testing.

How is Coronary Heart Illness Treated?

There are 2 primary ways that heart disease is treated:

  1. Medical management or non-surgical treatment

    • Platelet inhibitors like aspirin and plavix

    • Cholesterol lowering medications such as statins

    • Tight blood sugar control with oral medications and/or insulin

    • Blood pressure lowering medicines such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and calcium channel blockers.

    • Modifiable risk factors for coronary artery disease must be addressed and include increasing activity, maintaining a healthy weight, smoking cessation, and strict control of blood pressure and blood sugar

  2. Revascularization or restoring proper blood flow to the heart arteries

    • Performed when cardiac catheterization is performed and reveals significant blockage of heart arteries

    • Blood flow is restored either percutaneously (through wrist or groin arteries) using balloons and stents or coronary artery bypass grafting to surgically restore blood flow to the heart.