Conditions We Treat: Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease—also called coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis—is the result of plaque building up in your coronary arteries, causing them to narrow and become rigid. As a result, blood flow to the heart can become restricted and the plaque can rupture, leading to a stroke or potentially fatal heart attack.

The disease develops over time, sometimes starting at a young age, as cholesterol-laden plaque deposits and grows in the blood vessel walls. The plaque makes the inside of the arteries sticky, which attracts other substances such as inflammatory cells, lipoproteins, and calcium that contribute to plaque formation, inflammation, and narrowing of the artery. The more damaged and inflamed the inner wall of an artery is, the more likely it is to attract plaque.

Risk Factors

Traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease are thought to include:

  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Inflammation in the arteries
  • Poor nutrition
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being post-menopausal for women and being older than 45 for men

Symptoms

Coronary artery disease is sometimes quiet, meaning that it doesn't always present symptoms or signs. But when it does, some of the most common include:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Fast heart rate or shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or sweating
  • Indigestion or nausea

Treatment

With coronary artery disease, prevention is the best approach. Even if you're predisposed to the disease because of factors outside of your control such as genetics, age, or another disease, you might be able to halt or slow the progression of the condition by following certain lifestyle and nutrition guidelines such as:

  • Stopping smoking.
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes polyunsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, and fish; whole grains; plenty of fruits and vegetables; legumes; and low-fat dairy, and reducing your intake of processed foods, trans fats, sweets, and alcohol.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Losing excess weight.
  • Reducing stress.

In some cases, more aggressive strategies might also be necessary. These could include:

  • Medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, aspirin, beta blockers and other drugs that reduce blood pressure, and nitroglycerin tablets, sprays, or patches.
  • Procedures to restore and improve blood flow such as angioplasty and stent placement.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery.
  • Alternative medicine and supplements.