We often hear that heart disease is the most common cause of death among both American men and women. But in reality, it’s a specific type of heart disease—coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease, sometimes called CAD or coronary heart disease, is the most common form of heart disease – affecting nearly 20 million adults (ages 20 and older). It occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, harden and narrow. Oftentimes, in the early stages of coronary artery disease, there won’t be any noticeable signs or symptoms, allowing the disease to progress undetected until it has reached a more advanced stage.
This happens due to a buildup of plaque known as atherosclerosis. As plaque progressively builds up, less blood can flow through the arteries, depriving organs and tissues throughout the body of oxygen and essential nutrients.
Coronary artery disease can eventually lead to a number of serious health issues, including heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmias.
Coronary artery disease doesn’t discriminate, and it can and does impact people of all ages, races, and genders. But there are some factors that place you at a higher risk.
Risk factors include:
- Being age 45 or older for men and age 55 or older for women
- Being excessively stressed
- Being exposed to environmental pollutants
- Eating a diet high in saturated fat, excess sodium, and added sugar
- Going through menopause before age 40
- Having a family medical history of coronary artery disease
- Having chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, or sleep apnea
- Having gestational diabetes or preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Not getting enough quality sleep
- Smoking tobacco or being exposed to secondhand smoke
If you have risk factors for coronary artery disease, your doctor may recommend screening tests and preventive steps to lower your risk.
In some cases, coronary artery disease can be “silent,” meaning it doesn’t exhibit any noticeable symptoms. When that happens, it may not be discovered until heart function is significantly diminished and a heart attack or other serious complication occurs.
In other cases, though, a person with coronary artery disease may experience a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Chest discomfort
- Cold sweats
- Neck pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep problems
You may have heard that women are less likely to experience chest pain when having a heart attack. That can also be true for a woman who has coronary artery disease. Women with the condition are less likely to have chest pain and may experience:
- Pressure in the chest
- Stomach pain
Women are also more likely to experience no symptoms at all.
While chest pain can be a symptom of coronary artery disease, it can also be associated with a heart attack. If you experience chest pain, call 911 immediately to have your symptoms checked out.
How is Coronary Artery Disease Treated?
If you’re diagnosed with coronary artery disease, your doctor will likely perform what’s known as a 10-year risk calculation, which helps assess the severity of your condition and what treatment will be best.
Treatment will include a recommendation to practice heart-healthy lifestyle habits. This will include advice to get to and maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, find healthy ways to manage stress, quit smoking, and prioritize quality sleep.
Other treatment options will depend on your specific symptoms and the severity of your condition and may include:
- Prescription Medications to control risk factors
- Interventional Cardiology Procedures (angioplasty with/without stent)
- Open and Robotic Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting
Why Choose Georgia Heart Institute?
With one of the most robust and comprehensive heart and vascular programs in the state, Georgia Heart Institute offers the complete spectrum of diagnostic services, prevention services and treatments for coronary artery disease. Not only are our highly-trained cardiologists and surgeons equipped to provide the highest level of treatment, but their approach to care is informed and enriched by the latest information and technology – all to deliver the best outcomes. For any coronary artery disease needs, our experts stand ready to ensure your lasting heart health.
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