Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease (CAD), is characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries. The fatty deposits may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge throughout the life span. This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart.
Nearly 16 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease - the number one killer of both men and women in the US.
What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?
Risk factors for CAD often include:
- High LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides levels, and reduced HDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Physical inactivity
- High saturated fat diet
Controlling risk factors is the key to preventing illness and death from CAD.
What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
The symptoms of coronary heart disease will depend on the severity of the disease. Some persons with CAD have no symptoms, some have episodes of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain.
If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience chest pain called angina. When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die. Some persons may have a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a "silent" heart attack.
When symptoms are present, each person may experience them differently. Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:
- Heaviness, tightness, pressure, and/or pain in the chest - behind the breastbone
- Pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness and fatigue