Coronary Artery Disease (Heart Attack)

Basic Facts

Coronary artery disease happens when plaque builds up in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries).

  • Plaque is made up of deposits of cholesterol (a fatty material) and other things in the artery. Plaque buildup narrows the inside of arteries over time and stiffens them. This can block the blood flow to the heart. Blood clots can also form around the plaque deposits, which restricts blood flow even further. This process is called atherosclerosis.
  • Atherosclerosis causes less blood flow into and within the heart. The pain in chest caused by this abnormality is called angina. So the heart is unable to receive blood supply and thereby the oxygen it needs to beat as it should. A large blockage can permanently damage a part of the heart and cause part of the heart muscle to die because of too little blood and oxygen.

Heart Attack

Plaque buildup and atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction). If the damaged area is small, the heart can repair itself and continue to beat. If the heart attack is severe and widespread, it can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death. 

Its possible to prevent or slow development of coronary artery disease. A heart-healthy diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices are the basic steps to keeping a strong and healthy heart. 

How Common is Coronary Artery Disease?

Up to 70 percent of adults age 70 and older have significant coronary artery disease. The definition of this is having at least 50 percent blockage of one or more coronary arteries.

Up to age 85, men are at higher risk of coronary artery disease than women. After age 85, the risk is greater for women.

Risk of death due to a heart attack rises with age. Up to 80 percent of deaths due to heart attacks happen among older adults.


Last Updated February 2023

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