Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. CAD is usually caused by a process called atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the coronary arteries.
This buildup, often called plaque, irritates and scars the arteries, causing them to become hard and thickened. Over time, atherosclerosis narrows the opening that blood passes through, limiting the amount of blood delivered to your heart. When this happens, you have coronary artery disease - the most common form of heart disease.
Risk factors for CAD include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of CAD
- Age (over 45 for men, over 55 for women)
- Low “good cholesterol”
- Elevated C-Reactive protein in your blood (a protein produced by your liver that indicates inflammation in your body)
- Buildup of calcium in your coronary arteries
How do you know if you have coronary artery disease? Unfortunately, many people don’t know they have it until the disease is fairly advanced. At this point, they may experience angina or a heart attack.
Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can help you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure down, keep your arteries clear, and prevent coronary artery disease. Use these strategies:
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat sources of protein such as nuts and fish
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight and keep diabetes under control
- Quit smoking
- Keep your cholesterol under control (if you are high risk, your doctor may prescribe medication to help with this)