Coronary Artery Disease
Leading Cause of Death Worldwide
Coronary artery disease, which typically builds up over decades, is the most common form of heart disease and is the leading cause of death worldwide. It accounts for over 350,000 deaths in the United States per year.
Arteries Blocked with Plaque
Your coronary arteries are the large blood vessels that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. When these arteries become blocked, you have coronary artery disease (CAD).
The narrowing of the arteries in CAD is caused by a process called atherosclerosis. People with atherosclerosis have a build-up of a substance called plaque inside the wall of their arteries.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, clot, calcium deposits, and white blood cells that have gotten into the artery wall. The plaque causes the wall to "bulge" into the inside of the artery where the blood normally flows. The bulge can partly or completely restrict the flow of blood in a particular artery.
Chest Pain or Shortness of Breath
Decreased blood flow to the heart muscle can result in chest pain (called angina) or, in some cases, shortness of breath.
A complete blockage can cause a heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction or MI) when lack of oxygen-rich blood flow causes the heart muscle to die. This may occur as a result of plaque rupture and blood clot formation at the site of a narrowed artery.
More severe heart attacks can permanently damage parts of your heart muscle. This can cause heart failure, a condition where your heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of your body.
This damage can also lead to arrhythmias, or problems with the speed or rhythm of your heartbeat.