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Coronary Artery Disease
 

Coronary Artery Disease

 

Coronary artery disease develops when your coronary arteries — the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients — become damaged or diseased. Cholesterol-containing deposits (plaques) on your arteries are usually to blame for coronary artery disease.

When plaques build up, they narrow your coronary arteries, causing your heart to receive less blood. Eventually, diminished blood flow may cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath or other coronary artery disease symptoms. A complete blockage can cause a heart attack.

Because coronary artery disease often develops over decades, it can go virtually unnoticed until it produces a heart attack. But there's plenty you can do to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. Start by committing to a healthy lifestyle.

Coronary artery disease

If your coronary arteries become narrowed, they can't supply enough oxygenated blood to your heart — especially when it's beating hard, such as during physical activity. At first, the restricted blood flow may not cause any coronary artery disease symptoms. As the plaques continue to accumulate in your coronary arteries, however, you may develop coronary artery disease symptoms, including:

Chest pain (angina). You may feel pressure or tightness in your chest, as if someone were standing on your chest. The pain, referred to as angina, is usually triggered by physical or emotional stress. It typically goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity. In some people, especially women, this pain may be fleeting or sharp and noticed in the abdomen, back or arm.

Shortness of breath. If your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs, you may develop shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with exertion.

Heart attack. If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, you may have a heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing pressure in your chest and pain in your shoulder or arm, sometimes with shortness of breath and sweating. Women are somewhat more likely than men are to experience less typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack, including nausea and back or jaw pain. Sometimes a heart attack occurs without any apparent signs or symptoms.

When to see a doctor
If you have risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity — talk to your doctor. He or she may want to test you for the condition, especially if you have signs or symptoms of narrowed arteries. Even if you don't have evidence of coronary artery disease, your doctor may recommend aggressive treatment of your risk factors. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop progression of coronary artery disease and help prevent a heart attack.

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