Of the 600,000 Americans who die from heart disease every year, 385,000 suffer from coronary artery disease, making it the most common – and the most dangerous – form of heart disease in the United States. Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty plaque deposits build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. The decreased blood flow prevents oxygen and other nutrients from reaching the heart muscle, which can cause angina (chest pain) and heart failure.
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
Many patients with coronary artery disease experience the following symptoms:
- Chest Pain (Angina). Patients with chest pain related to cardiovascular disease may describe feelings of tightness in the chest – as if there were a great weight on the chest. Angina can oftentimes be triggered by physical and emotional stress. Typically, angina goes away on its own after the stress has passed.
- Shortness of Breath / Fatigue. Some patients may find they are frequently short of breath or fatigued – even when at rest or involved in moderate physical activity.
- Heart Attack. Many patients do not know they have coronary artery disease until they experience one of the most extreme symptoms, a heart attack. Heart attacks may cause pain the chest, shoulder, or arm. Some patients, especially women, may experience nausea and pain in the jaw or back.
While the above symptoms are common, a lack of symptoms does not indicate that a patient does not have coronary artery disease. If you have the following risk factors, then you should ask your physician about getting screened for coronary artery disease.
Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors
The top ten risk factors for coronary artery disease:
- Age. Over time, the coronary arteries can weaken.
- Sex. Men and post-menopausal women are at a greater risk for developing heart disease.
- Genetics. Risk increases if your brother or father was diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 55, or if your sister or mother was diagnosed before the age of 65.
- Cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol levels can contribute to coronary artery disease.
- Hypertension. High blood pressure is often associated with thick, hardened arteries.
- Smoking. Nicotine and other cigarette byproducts damage the inner lining of blood vessels. Male smokers with a pack-a-day habit are at three times the risk for developing coronary artery disease. Female smokers with the same habit are at six times the risk when compared to non-smokers.
- Inactivity. Lack of exercise can increase risk for coronary artery disease.
- Obesity. Being overweight or obese can worsen the effects of other risk factors.
- Diabetes. Diabetes has been shown to put individuals at an increased risk for coronary artery disease.
- Stress. Stress causes blood pressure to increase, putting additional pressure on the arteries.
Most patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease have multiple risk factors. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with coronary artery disease – risk factors or no – you should let your physician know as soon as possible. Take our Heart Disease Risk Assessment to learn more.
Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease
There are a variety of methods for diagnosing coronary artery disease. At Phoenix Heart Center, your cardiologist may use any of the following methods, depending on your health condition, medical history, observed symptoms, and other factors.
- Electrocardiography (EKG or ECG)
- Cardiac Catheterization
- Treadmill / Stress Testing
- Lab Blood Testing
- Chest X-Ray
- Nuclear Studies & Tomography
- Read more about any of these diagnostic procedures at Phoenix Heart Center.
Preventing & Managing Coronary Artery Disease
What can you do to prevent coronary artery disease? Below, you’ll find preventative steps you can take to reduce your risk for coronary artery disease.
- Age. While you can’t prevent aging, you can take the initiative to get the routine screenings you need. (See below.)
- Sex. Your sex is another risk factor you can’t change. However, you can familiarize yourself with gender-specific symptoms of coronary artery disease.
- Genetics. If heart disease runs in your family, let your physician know. If possible, ask family members for more information, so that your physician can better assess your risk.
- Cholesterol. Beginning at age 20, you should have your cholesterol checked at least once every five years – more frequently if you are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 50. Aim for an LDL level below 70 mg/dL.
- Hypertension. Beginning at age 20, you should have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. If necessary, change diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits to bring your blood pressure down to a healthy range.
- Smoking. Quit tobacco use immediately to lower your risk for developing coronary artery disease.
- Inactivity. Try to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise in per day (with your physician’s approval).
- Obesity. Aim for a healthy weight range. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Diabetes. If you have diabetes, prioritize blood sugar management to lower your risk.
- Stress. If you’re prone to frequent and/or severe stress, learn stress management techniques.
Lastly, take the medications your physician has prescribed for you. Talk to your doctor before going off any medication.
Treating Coronary Artery Disease
In addition to suggesting lifestyle changes, your cardiologist may treat your coronary artery disease through medication. Some basic cholesterol management medications or over-the-counter drugs, like aspirin, may help reduce your risk. Your cardiologist may also suggest:
- Beta Blockers to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure.
- Nitroglycerin to manage chest pain, dilate coronary arteries and increase blood flow.
- ACE Inhibitors to lower blood pressure.
- Calcium Channel Blockers to relax the muscles surrounding the coronary arteries.
More intensive treatments at Phoenix Heart Center include angioplasty and stent placement. During angioplasty, a small balloon is introduced via catheter into the blocked coronary artery. The balloon is inflated, pressing the plaque against the arterial walls. A stent is typically placed to hold the cleared artery open, improving blood flow. Phoenix Heart Center’s unique Radial First program allows this procedure to be performed through a catheter placed in the radial artery on the wrist.
For more information about diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease and other chest pain symptoms, contact a Phoenix Heart Center practice location convenient to you. Now serving Central Phoenix, East Mesa, and Tempe. You can also schedule an appointment online.