Overview of Coronary Artery Disease

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 coronary artery disease include anything that damages your arteries. Some of these risk factors are beyond your control, such as your family medical history or your age. Yet other risk factors can be changed, and include your lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, and your activity level.

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.

angioplasty
These drawings show the process of atherosclerosis. Fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the coronary arteries. Over time, this narrows the arteries – and limits the amount of blood that passes through them to your heart muscle.

Diagnostic Tests for Coronary Artery Disease

  • Calcium Score

    A coronary artery calcium score is a special CT scan that uses a very low radiation dose to detect calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. The presence of calcium indicates underlying heart disease called atherosclerosis.

  • Cardiac MRI

    Cardiac MRI is a test that uses powerful magnets to create pictures of the heart and coronary arteries.

  • Echocardiography

    An echocardiogram is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create a visual image (echocardiogram) of heart structures.

  • EKG

    An EKG is a visual record of the spread of electrical impulses through the heart. These electrical impulses initiate the heartbeat.

  • Nuclear Cardiology and Heart Perfusion Imaging

    Imaging tests that use special cameras to visualize blood flow in the heart by injecting small amounts of radioactive materials into the body before the test.

  • Stress Testing

    Stress testing is a technique that involves stressing the heart and monitoring the heart's reaction. A stress test helps evaluate the heart's capacity for work.

Treatments for Coronary Artery Disease

Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. Possible treatments for coronary artery disease include:

  • Angioplasty

    Angioplasty is a treatment in which a catheter with a deflated balloon at the tip is inserted into a narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated at the site of the narrowing to help widen the artery and improve blood flow.

  • Brachytherapy

    Brachytherapy uses radiation to keep blocked heart arteries open. It is usually combined with angioplasty and stent placement.

  • Bypass Surgery

    In bypass surgery, a vein from your leg — or an artery from your chest wall or arm — is used to bypass a coronary artery that is narrowed or blocked by fatty plaque buildup.

  • Stent Placement

    Stent placement is a procedure where a small metal coil or tube is inserted into a narrowed artery to hold it open.

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