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
- 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. (See our Signals of Heart Attack Tip Sheet, and our Section on Heart Disease/Cardiovascular Disease for more information).