Coronary Artery Disease

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. It is estimated that around the country, someone has a heart attack every forty seconds. Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart get narrowed or clogged due to buildup of plaque. This plaque is composed of mainly cholesterol. It puts a person at risk for angina, heart attack and damage to the heart muscle. It can manifest in various ways, and the common symptoms include pain or pressure in the chest, along with pain felt in the neck, jaw, or arms, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can also include nausea, vomiting, profuse sweating, racing heartbeat or dizziness.

If there is gradual narrowing of the arteries of the heart, it will usually present with new onset of chest pain with activity, called angina. If there is a sudden rupture of the plaque, there can be clot formation at that site, leading to a heart attack which needs prompt diagnosis and treatment. Coronary artery disease can be detected through various tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), stress test, CT scan or cardiac catheterization. The goal for everyone should be to try and prevent issues from coronary artery disease before it progresses significantly. Prevention is truly the best cure. Hence, we should focus on the various risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and try to maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular exercise, and eat a plant-based heart healthy diet.

Once someone is diagnosed with coronary artery disease, various types of medications can help in managing it and preventing future problems. These include medications for high blood pressure, statins and other medicines for cholesterol, aspirin, and various medicines for relief of angina. Beyond this, if the blockages are severe enough, various procedures can be done to help. These include balloons which can open a blockage and stents which are thin mesh tubes that keep the artery open. There is also the possible option of a coronary artery bypass graft surgery, which is open heart surgery during which another blood vessel is attached above and below the blockage to bypass or reroute the blood around the clogged area. Each of these have their own risks and benefits.

Anyone who has risk factors for coronary artery disease or has been diagnosed with it, should consult with a cardiologist to help reduce their risk of heart disease in the future.