Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and can lead to chest pain caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart (known as angina). It is also a leading contributor to acute myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack.
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease begins when fatty deposits (plaques) that contain cholesterol build up in the arteries leading to your heart. This is a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis narrows and stiffens the arteries, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. Blood clots can also form around the plaque deposits. 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. If the heart attack is severe and widespread, it can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death.
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.
Last Updated July 2020