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Coronary artery disease, also known as CAD, is a common condition that affects the heart. It occurs when the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to serious health problems such as heart attacks and heart failure. In this article, we will explore what coronary artery disease is, what causes it, how it is diagnosed, and what you can do to manage and prevent it.
What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked. This can happen when cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of the arteries, forming plaques. Over time, these plaques can become thick and hard, making it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries.
When the blood flow to the heart is reduced, it can cause chest pain or discomfort, also known as angina. If a plaque ruptures or a blood clot forms in one of the narrowed arteries, it can completely block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack.
What causes coronary artery disease?
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of coronary artery disease. These include:
High cholesterol: High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol, can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries.
High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries, making it easier for plaques to form.
Smoking: Smoking can damage the lining of the arteries and contribute to the buildup of plaques.
Diabetes: People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Family history: If your parents or siblings have had coronary artery disease, you may be at an increased risk.
Age: The risk of developing coronary artery disease increases as you get older.
Lack of physical activity: Regular physical activity can help keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Unhealthy diet: A diet that is high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and salt can contribute to the development of coronary artery disease.
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
Coronary artery disease can be diagnosed through a variety of tests, including:
ECG (electrocardiogram): This test measures the electrical activity of your heart and can help detect any abnormalities.
Stress test: During a stress test, you will be asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike while your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored. This can help determine if there is reduced blood flow to the heart.
CT scan: A CT scan can help detect any blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Coronary angiogram: During this test, a dye is injected into your arteries, which allows your doctor to see any blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The symptoms of coronary artery disease can vary depending on the severity of the blockage in the arteries. Some people may not experience any symptoms until they have a heart attack. However, common symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
Chest pain or discomfort (angina)
Shortness of breath
Pain, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs
Indigestion or heartburn
Nausea or vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.