Coronary Heart Disease


Atherosclerosis produces fatty plaque deposits that can narrow the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot in one of these narrowed arteries suddenly blocks the blood supply, which can result in death or permanent damage to the heart muscle. Each year in the U.S. about 1.2 million people have a heart attack; about half of these heart attacks result in death (survivors often suffer a second or third heart attack). Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Coronary Artery Disease

Also called: CAD, Coronary arteriosclerosis, Coronary atherosclerosis
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.

CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can't get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts' blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.

Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can't pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as ischemic heart disease (IHD), atherosclerotic heart disease, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease, is a group of diseases that includes: stable angina, unstable angina, myocardial infarction, and sudden coronary death. It is within the group of cardiovascular diseases of which it is the most common type. A common symptom is chest pain or discomfort which may travel into the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw. Occasionally it may feel like heartburn. Usually symptoms occur with exercise or emotional stress, last less than a few minutes, and gets better with rest. Shortness of breath may also occur and sometimes no symptoms are present. The first sign is occasionally a heart attack. Other complications include heart failure or an irregular heartbeat.

Risk factors include: high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood cholesterol, poor diet, and excessive alcohol, among others. Other risks include depression. The underlying mechanism involves atherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart. A number of tests may help with diagnoses including: electrocardiogram, cardiac stress testing, and coronary angiogram among others.

Prevention is by eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. Sometimes medication for diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure are also used. There is limited evidence for screening people who are at low risk and do not have symptoms. Treatment involves the same measures as prevention. Additional medications such as aspirin, beta blockers, or nitrogylcerin may be recommended. Procedures such as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) may be used in severe disease. In those with stable CAD it is unclear if PCI or CABG in addition to the other treatments improve life expectancy or decreases heart attack risk.

In 2013 CAD was the most common cause of death globally, resulting in 8.14 million deaths (16.8%) up from 5.74 million deaths (12%) in 1990. The risk of death from CAD for a given age has decreased between 1980 and 2010 especially in the developed world. The number of cases of CAD for a given age has also decreased between 1990 and 2010. In the United States in 2010 about 20% of those over 65 had CAD, while it was present in 7% of those 45 to 64, and 1.3% of those 18 to 45. Rates are higher among men than women of a given age.


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The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.