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What is Coronary Artery Disease?

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The coronary arteries in your heart supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to your heart and your entire body. Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops when plaque builds up in these arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, a waxy fat-like substance found in your blood, and other organic substances. This build-up causes your arteries to become narrow and reduces the blood flow to your heart.

CAD is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. It can also be one of the most difficult to predict. Because plaque builds up in your arteries over decades, you may not notice changes in your health right away.

What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?

Chest pain, also known as angina, is the most common symptom of CAD. This pain is due to the narrowed arteries associated with CAD, which can cause pain because they block blood flow to your heart. Over time, this blockage can weaken the heart which can lead to heart failure.

For many people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain
  • Weakness or light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?

Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:

  • Age: Getting older increases your risk of damaged arteries.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to get coronary artery disease, but the risk increases for women after menopause.
  • A family history of heart disease: If a close relative developed heart disease at a young age, you may be at increased risk. Your risk is highest if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or a sister developed it before age 65.
  • Smoking: People who have a history of smoking are at an increased risk for heart disease. Breathing in secondhand smoke can also increase a person’s risk.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of your arteries which makes it harder for the blood to flow through your heart.
  • High cholesterol levels: High levels of cholesterol increase the risk for plaque deposits in your arteries.
  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease have many similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
  • Obesity: Extra weight can put additional stress on the heart.
  • Unhealthy diet: Eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar can increase your risk of heart disease.

How can I prevent coronary artery disease?

A healthy lifestyle can help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries and keep your heart strong. You can take steps toward a healthy lifestyle by following the tips below:

  • Quit smoking
  • Control blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat a balanced diet low in fat and salt
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage your stress level

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