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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels, the coronary arteries, that supply blood to the heart are not able to provide enough blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscle. Cholesterol buildup in these arteries most often leads to coronary artery disease (CAD), leading to a lack of blood flow and, eventually, a heart attack

What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease develops slowly and can often go unnoticed for decades until a large enough cholesterol plaque has built up. Signs may only present themselves once the heart is beating rapidly, like during exercise. Symptoms of coronary artery disease to pay attention to include:

What are the causes of coronary artery disease?

Other than high cholesterol, CAD can be caused by:

What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?

  • Age. Your risk of developing damaged or narrowed arteries increases with age.
  • Sex. The risk of coronary artery disease is higher in men than in women. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.
  • Family history. A family history of heart disease makes you more likely to develop coronary artery disease.

How do I prevent coronary artery disease?

  • Quit smoking
  • Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a low-fat, low-salt diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Manage stress

How do you diagnose and treat coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is often diagnosed using some type of test, like an echocardiogram or stress test. Treatment includes medicinal or surgical options, like angioplasty and stent placement or coronary artery bypass graft surgery, when an artery needs to be unblocked.

If you are having a heart attack, which happens when parts of the heart do not receive enough blood flow, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain. Pain in the center or left side of the chest is one of the most common signs of a heart attack. You may feel a tightness, fullness, or squeezing sensation that can last for several minutes.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, back, and stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. While this symptom usually accompanies chest pain, it can occur before the discomfort starts.
  • Lightheadedness. In combination with other symptoms, feeling as though you are about to pass out is a common indicator of a heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations. You may begin to feel irregular or skipping heartbeats.

Heart attack symptoms can happen on and off or continuously over the course of a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are, if you have been experiencing chest pain for several days or weeks, it is not related to a heart attack.

If you see somebody having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. If they are conscious, have them chew and swallow an aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots. If they lose consciousness, administer CPR or follow the instructions on an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available.

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