Aging & Health A to Z
Coronary Artery Disease, Angina
Basic Facts & Information
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in the United States, and the leading cause of death for both men and women.
In many cases, it’s possible to prevent or slow the progression of coronary artery disease. A heart-healthy diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices are the basic steps to keeping your heart strong and healthy.
Coronary artery disease begins when fatty deposits (plaques) containing cholesterol build up in the arteries leading to your heart (a condition called atherosclerosis). This narrows and stiffens the arteries so that the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart decreases. Blood clots can also form around the plaque deposits, and that restricts blood flow even further.
The restricted blood flow deprives your heart of the oxygen it needs to function properly. The result is a condition called ischemia, which often, but not always, causes chest pain (angina).
A large blockage can permanently damage your heart and cause part of the heart muscle to die because of inadequate blood and oxygen supply; this is what causes a heart attack. If the damaged area is small, however, your heart can repair itself and continue to function.
Updated: November 2016
Posted: March 2012