Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) become hardened and narrowed. The arteries harden and narrow due to buildup of plaque on their inner walls. The buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. As plaque accumulates, the insides of the coronary arteries get narrower and less blood flows through them. Eventually, blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced, and the heart muscle is not able to receive the amount of oxygen it needs to function efficiently. A reduction of blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart muscle can result in:
Angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart does not get enough blood.
Heart attack. A heart attack happens when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. Cells in the heart muscle begin to die if they do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure, which is the hearts inability to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has ceased pumping, it simply means that the heart is failing to pump blood effectively. CAD can also lead to arrhythmias, which are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart. 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.