According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 18.2 million adults over the age of 20 have Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). If you are not one of those 18.2 million people, consider yourself lucky, because CAD is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women! With such a prominence in our country specifically, even if you are not one of the patients with this disease, what can we all learn about this disease to help prevent and treat this disease while caring for those patients who are going through it? Let’s look at the facts of this disease first.

What is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD, is a disease that affects the major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood. In those with CAD, those arteries or damaged/diseased because of blockage within them. Plaque, made of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances found in the bloodstream, builds up in the walls of those arteries, narrowing over time. Because these arteries are narrowed or possibly completely blocked, blood cannot flow properly to the heart, which can lead to major cardio events such as heart attacks.

What Causes Coronary Artery Disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, CAD is thought to be caused by some sort of small injury or damage to the coronary artery. This can happen quite early in life, and is commonly called Atherosclerosis. This damage can be caused by many things, such as smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, or not being active enough. Once damaged, the inner wall tends to collect plaque in this area. Whether initially damaged or not, once plaque begins to build within the walls of the artery, the space that blood can flow through becomes restricted, restricting blood to the heart. 

What Are The Signs and Symptoms To Watch For?

Usually, the first symptom of CAD that patients notice is chest pain/discomfort, also known as angina. This chest pain is due to the strain on the heart because of a lack of blood flow. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they have CAD until they suffer a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack can include the following:

  • Weakness or Becoming Lightheaded
  • Cold Sweat
  • Nausea
  • Pain or Discomfort in the Arm/Shoulder
  • Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your nearest emergency room!

How Can CAD Be Treated?

If properly diagnosed and caught in time, CAD is treatable and reversible. First, taking care of yourself and your body is one way to keep your body and arteries healthy. This involves weight loss, exercising regularly, eating a low-fat diet, and quitting smoking. There are also medications that can be used to treat CAD. Statins lower cholesterol in the blood, preventing cholesterol from being able to collect in the arteries and prevents heart attacks. Anticoagulants can be given to patients to prevent blood from clotting in the arteries and throughout the rest of the body. Beta-blockers can also be given to patients to treat CAD by lowering their heart rate and lowering their blood pressure. Lastly, antianginal drugs, such as calcium channel blockers, can also lower the patient’s blood pressure, lower their heart rate, relieve angina, and generally opening blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through them. All of these drugs are options to be discussed with your doctor.

CAD can also be treated by medical procedures such as coronary stent procedures and coronary angioplasties. In these procedures, either a stent or a balloon catheter is inserted into a blocked artery to widen it, allowing for better blood flow. As a last resort, doctors can perform a coronary artery bypass surgery, which diverts blood flow from a blocked section of the artery to another, free-flowing section, bypassing the problem area. 

Coronary Artery Disease is not a diagnosis to take lightly. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with this disease prior to a major cardiac event occurring, making proactive changes in your/their life as well as working with doctors can serve you insurmountable good. If you have any questions about your risk of CAD, symptoms, or treatments of such, contact the specialists at CT Cardio. Let them help you get your heart pumping!