What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a disease that develops when the major blood vessels that supply blood to your heart become narrowed or blocked. If the heart is unable to get enough blood, it will lack the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly.
The disease starts when cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. This build up eventually turns into plaque. This plaque build up can narrow the artery and reduce the flow of blood to your heart. If this condition is left untreated and the artery blocks either partially or completely it may lead to a heart attack
CAD often develops over decades. You might not notice a problem until you have a significant blockage. You can take steps from an early age to prevent coronary artery disease.
What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
CAD is a progressive condition, it may take years to develop symptoms, and not everyone’s symptoms will be the same.
Three common symptoms are:
Chest pain (angina)
Often triggered suddenly by physical or emotional stress. You may feel pressure, heaviness, or tightness in your chest
Shortness of breath
You might have noticed that you are struggling to walk as far as normal without feeling a bit out of breath
Can feel like chest pain, this is a medical emergency, if your symptoms are severe call Triple Zero (000)
If you have any symptoms that you are concerned about, discuss this with your local doctor or call Triple Zero (000).
What causes coronary artery disease?
It is thought that CAD develops after the inner lining of your artery becomes damaged. There are several risk factors which increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease. Some risk factors can be managed from an early age while some you are unable to change.
- Smoking – a significant risk factor which can be reduced by quitting
- Elevated cholesterol – it is important to work with your GP and cardiologist to reach your target cholesterol
- High blood pressure (BP) – depending on your risk profile your cardiologist and GP will set a personalised target BP
- Being overweight or obese – aiming for a healthy BMI of less than 25 will help to decrease your long term risk factors
- Not being active (sedentary lifestyle) – aim for a minimum of 30 minutes exercise daily to reduce your risk
- Diabetes – Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) significantly increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. If you have T2DM, you may be asked by your GP or cardiologist to aim for lower blood pressure and cholesterol targets. Making the advised lifestyle changes can have a positive impact of the severity of both coronary artery disease and T2DM
- High stress – finding ways to manage your stress levels can help to reduce your risk
- Unhealthy diet – reducing your saturated fat intake is a simple way to reduce your risk
- Family history of premature heart disease – classified as a first degree relative with heart disease before the age of 60
- Age – overall risk increases with age
- Gender – there is a small increased risk in males
If you are aged between 40 and 75 (or 35 – 75 if Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) you should have a heart health check with your doctor to determine your cardiovascular risk.
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed at GenesisCare?
There are several tests available to diagnose you with CAD. To understand how your heart is functioning your doctor might refer you for one or more of the following tests at GenesisCare.
Electrocardiogram – to read more about this test please click here
Coronary artery calcium score – to read more about this test please click here
Computed Tomography Coronary Angiography – to read more about this test please click here
Exercise Stress Echocardiogram – to read more about this test please click here
How is coronary artery disease treated?
There are several treatment options for patients with CAD. Your doctor will design a management plan based on your risk factors, symptoms and severity of disease.
Medical management and lifestyle modification are treatments used to reduce the risk of you suffering a heart attack. Sometimes when the disease is advanced this may also be combined with a referral for a coronary angiography. You can read more about this procedure here.
If CAD is not controlled early, it can lead to the heart becoming weak and being at significant risk of developing heart failure. To read more about heart failure, click here.