Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, and the leading cause of death in African-Americans/Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, and Caucasians. In addition, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.

Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, become hardened and narrowed. This process occurs when a material called plaque (sounds like plak) builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. The buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis), and is more likely to occur in people with high blood cholesterol levels because cholesterol accumulates in the plaques. As the plaques increase in size, the coronary arteries get narrower on the inside, and less blood flows through them. As a result, less blood flows to the heart muscle. Since blood carries oxygen to the heart muscle, the muscle doesn’t get enough. 

Major complications of the heart muscle not getting enough oxygen are:

  • Angina – Chest pains or discomfort (See Warning Signs of Heart Attacks).
  • Heart attack – Occurs when a blood clot develops where there’s a plaque in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all of the blood supply to that part of the heart muscle.

Over time, coronary heart disease can weaken the heart muscle enough to cause one or both of the following:

  • Congestive Heart failure – Coronary heart disease can eventually weaken the heart muscle enough to cause heart failure. When this happens, the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.
  • Arrhythmias – Arrhythmias occur when the heart doesn’t beat with its normal rhythm. They can occur when the heart muscle has too little oxygen for too long a period of time.