Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. In the picture below, the coronary arteries are highlighted in red.
CAD is usually caused by a process called atherosclerosis that occurs when 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 thick.
Over time, atherosclerosis narrows the opening that blood passes through, limiting the amount of blood delivered to your heart muscle. When this happens, you have coronary artery disease — the most common form of heart disease.
In the picture below you can see inside of a coronary artery that is severely narrowed by plaque. The red arrows indicate blood flow. You can see how the plaque (yellow) limits the amount of blood that passes through the vessel to your heart muscle.
Unfortunately, many people don't know they have CAD until the disease is fairly advanced. At this point, you may experience angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
Risk factors for CAD include anything that damages your arteries. Some of these risk factors are beyond your control, such as your family medical history or your age. Other risk factors can be changed. These include lifestyle choices such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, and a low level of physical activity.
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