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Coronary Artery Disease

Some people are at greater risk of developing CAD than others. Know your risk factors.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

February 8, 2010

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Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

What It Is and Causes

CAD is a condition in which fatty deposits called "plaque" build inside the coronary arteries ( atherosclerosis).

The plaque buildup from atherosclerosis narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart, thereby decreasing its supply of oxygen-rich blood. Atherosclerosis also increases the risk of clots forming in your arteries. If clots break away, they can partially or completely block the flow of blood to your heart.

Some people are at greater risk of developing CAD than others. Risk factors include:

The more risk factors you have, the greater the likelihood that you have CAD.

Consequences of CAD

When oxygen-rich blood can't reach your heart you feel chest pain or pressure (angina), and you may experience a heart attack. The part of your heart that doesn't receive enough oxygen-rich blood dies, damaging and weakening the heart. Other serious consequences may occur, including arrhythmia and death.

Symptoms

Symptoms often don't appear until after age 50. They show up during exertion such as exercise, when the heart has to work harder and requires more oxygen.

Symptoms include: Some people have no symptoms and can even have "silent" heart attacks as a result.

Treatment Options and Preventive Measures

Living a healthy lifestyle is the most effective treatment for CAD. It is also the best preventive measure and it may even reverse coronary artery disease. While you cannot control risk factors such as age and family history, you can control many others including: Medical interventions to treat CAD include medication, angioplasty (a surgical procedure to open clogged arteries) and bypass surgery. Commonly prescribed medications include statins to lower cholesterol, beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure, aspirin and/or other medicines to reduce the risk of blood clots, nitrates to relieve chest pain.

For more information visit the American Heart Association and HealthKey.com.