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Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the most common form of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, become hardened and narrowed. Arteries harden and narrow because of the buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) on their inner walls, a phenomenon known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque accumulates, the arteries grow narrower, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and starving the heart muscle of oxygen.
As coronary artery disease progresses, patients typically experience angina (chest pain or discomfort) and shortness of breath. Coronary artery disease also increases the risk of heart attack (myocardial infarction). A heart attack occurs when a blood clot lodges in a coronary artery — usually where plaque has accumulated — and suddenly cuts blood supply to a portion of the heart muscle. If an insufficient amount of oxygen-carrying blood reaches the cells in the heart muscle, the cells will start to die. This can lead to permanent damage of the heart muscle and even death. Severe coronary artery disease (CAD) can be effectively treated with coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).
The effects of coronary artery disease may not be apparent for years, even decades. In some people, the disease may go unnoticed until it a heart attack occurs.
The classic risk factors for coronary artery disease include smoking, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, stress, and a family history of heart disease. However, coronary artery disease can develop without the presence of any of these classic risk factors.