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Coronary artery disease

Preventing and treating coronary artery disease

If you have recently been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, immediate action is needed to help reduce your chance of a heart attack. As the most common type of heart disease and a leading cause of heart attack, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Our team of heart and vascular specialists can help you fight this disease so you can live a long and healthy life. Lifestyle changes and medications are the most effective ways to treat this disease in the beginning, but if your disease progresses, surgery might be your best option.


What is coronary artery disease?

Your coronary arteries are responsible for distributing blood throughout your body. Coronary artery disease is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, which is usually caused by atherosclerosis – sometimes called "hardening” or “clogging” of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits (called plaques) on the inner walls of the arteries. These plaques can restrict blood flow to the heart muscle by physically clogging the artery or by causing abnormal artery tone and function.

Without an adequate blood supply, the heart becomes starved of oxygen and the vital nutrients it needs to work properly. This can cause chest pain called angina. If blood supply to a portion of the heart muscle is cut off entirely, or if the energy demands of the heart become much greater than its blood supply, a heart attack or injury to your heart could occur.

What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?

Symptoms could be very noticeable, but you can have the disease without suffering from any symptoms. The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is chest pain, which is often referred to as angina. It is also described as chest discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or squeezing. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest but can also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, back or jaw. Another common symptom is shortness of breath when exercising. Women often have different symptoms including pain in the left arm or back, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath during rest.

How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?

Your doctor diagnoses coronary artery disease by reviewing your symptoms, medical history and risk factors and by performing a physical exam. Diagnostic tests, including blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), exercise stress tests or cardiac catheterization might be required to appropriately diagnose and treat coronary artery disease. These tests can help your doctor evaluate the extent of your coronary heart disease, its effect on the function of your heart and the best form of treatment for you.

Podcast: How to prevent heart disease


Lifestyle changes

Making positive changes in your lifestyle can go a long way in treating coronary artery disease. By making healthy decisions and avoiding fatty foods, you can reduce your chance for a heart attack and keep the disease from getting worse. We can help you identify the changes you need to make and give you resources that will help you along the way, including:

Medications

Daily medications can help reduce the symptoms of coronary artery disease and keep it from progressing. Depending on your needs, your doctor might prescribe some of the following medications:

  • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure
  • Aspirin to prevent blood clots
  • Beta-blockers to lower heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen use
  • Calcium channel blockers to relax arteries and lower blood pressure
  • Diuretics to lower blood pressure and treat heart failure
  • Nitrates to stop chest pain and improve blood flow
  • Statins to lower cholesterol
Surgical treatments

To avoid further complications with this disease, your doctor might recommend one of the following surgical treatments:

  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Minimally invasive heart surgery
  • Angioplasty and stent placement
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)

PODCAST: Angioplasty and stent placement

Rehabilitation

We provide rehabilitation programs if you have heart disease and have recently had a procedure like bypass surgery or a stent insertion performed. We will teach you ways to avoid further complications and increase your overall health. We provide exercise therapy, nutrition education, emotional support, smoking cessation and education programs.

Learn more about our cardiac rehabilitation programs »

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