Coronary Artery Disease


Image courtesy of cooldesign at

Image courtesy of cooldesign at

Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the coronary arteries are narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced. The heart gets its nourishment from the coronary arteries. These arteries branch off from the main artery (the aorta) right into the heart muscle itself. They carry nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle.



If the coronary arteries become damaged or diseased, the heart muscle does not get the nutrition and oxygen it needs to do its job. The heart’s job is to pump blood to the rest of the body. When this is impaired, a heart problem becomes serious.



The most common coronary artery disease is that which blocks arteries with cholesterol and fat. The blockage seems to start with a small injury on the inside of the coronary artery. The injury attracts blood clotting elements and cholesterol. In time, the cholesterol builds up, just like a blockage in a pipe. If the artery is part way blocked, then the heart may not get enough blood when it needs to beat quickly. This can cause chest pain or angina. If a narrow part of the artery is blocked with a small blood clot, then no blood passes through. When a coronary artery is completely blocked, the heart muscle that depends on it may die. This causes a heart attack.



Factors that increase the risk for coronary artery disease and make it worse include:


• cigarette smoking

• high blood levels of cholesterol and fat

• diabetes

• obesity

• a family history of coronary artery disease and

• high blood pressure

If coronary artery disease is very severe, surgery may be necessary. The surgery may clear the blockage or bypass the blockage with vein grafts that will carry the blood. The surgery does not cure the disease.



It’s very important that people who have coronary artery surgery control their risk factors. They can improve their health and decrease their risk by:


exercising regularly

reducing stress

decreasing salt, fats, and cholesterol in their diet

lowering blood pressure

not smoking and

controlling diabetes


Coronary artery disease is any condition that narrows the coronary arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart muscle. The coronary arteries supply blood and nourishment to the heart muscle. When these blood vessels are diseased, the heart muscle can become injured.



The most common type of coronary artery disease is the blockage of an artery with cholesterol and fat. Temporary injuries to the heart muscle can cause heart pain, or angina. Permanent injuries to the heart muscle can cause a heart attack.



One way to treat a blocked coronary artery is with surgery. During surgery a healthy blood vessel is used to bypass the blocked blood vessel. There are other ways of dealing with a blocked coronary artery that do not involve bypass surgery. Some of these ways are:


diet and exercise


removing the blockage and

stretching the blocked area to open it

Diet and exercise can improve survival after a heart attack. In many people, a low-cholesterol, low-fat diet can slow the development of coronary artery disease. A change in diet works best if combined with regular aerobic exercise. In some cases, these steps may even decrease the amount of disease that is already present.



Many medications are used to treat coronary artery disease. Certain drugs, combined with diet and exercise, will lower cholesterol. These drugs can help slow the progress of coronary artery disease. Other drugs, such as nitroglycerin, help treat angina by widening blood vessels and decreasing the work the heart has to do. Still, other drugs can thin the blood and lower blood pressure.



There are also ways to remove blockages in the coronary arteries that do not require surgery. One way uses lasers or small cutting blades attached to a tube. The tube is inserted into the artery and the lasers or blades remove the blockage. Another procedure uses a balloon that is attached to a tube to open up a blocked artery. Often these procedures are used instead of surgery. These treatments may not be permanent and surgery may be necessary later.



The type of treatment you may need for coronary artery disease depends on the kind of disease you have. Be sure you and your healthcare provider discuss the benefits and risks involved with the treatments that are available to you.

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