What is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease, is a medical condition that affects the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. It is the most common type of heart disease and a leading cause of death worldwide.

CAD occurs when the coronary arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart, become narrowed or blocked by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances that gradually accumulate on the inner walls of the arteries, forming a thick, hard deposit. This process is known as atherosclerosis.

As the plaque buildup progresses, the arteries become narrowed, reducing the blood flow to the heart muscle. This can lead to various symptoms, such as chest pain or discomfort known as angina, shortness of breath, fatigue, and in some cases, even heart attacks.

Several risk factors contribute to the development of coronary artery disease, including:

Age: The risk increases with age.
Gender: Men are generally at a higher risk until women reach menopause, after which the risk becomes similar.
Family history: Having a close relative with CAD increases the likelihood.
High blood pressure: Uncontrolled hypertension can damage the arteries.
High cholesterol levels: Elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol contribute to plaque formation.
Smoking: Tobacco use damages blood vessels and decreases oxygen supply.
Diabetes: People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing CAD.
Obesity: Excess weight and an unhealthy diet can raise the risk.
Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity increases the risk of CAD.
Stress: Chronic stress may contribute to the development of CAD.

How can I reduce my risk of CAD?

Calcium scores can identify coronary artery disease symptoms before they appear. Treatment of silent coronary artery disease can help reduce your risk. A combination of lifestyle modifications like a healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Medications like antiplatelet drugs, beta-blockers, statins, and nitroglycerin can be prescribed to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. In more severe cases, procedures like angioplasty with stenting or coronary artery bypass surgery may be required to improve blood flow to the heart.

What are common symptoms of CAD?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) can present with various symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. Some common symptoms of CAD include:

Chest pain (angina): This is the most typical symptom of CAD. Angina may feel like a squeezing, pressure, heaviness, or tightness in the chest. It is often triggered by physical exertion or emotional stress and typically subsides with rest or medication.
Shortness of breath: CAD can cause difficulty in breathing, especially during physical activity or exertion. It may also occur at rest in advanced stages of the disease.
Fatigue: Unexplained fatigue or a feeling of tiredness can be a symptom of CAD. The heart muscle may not be receiving sufficient blood supply, leading to reduced energy levels.
Heart palpitations: Some individuals with CAD may experience irregular heartbeats or a sensation of their heart pounding or fluttering.
Dizziness or lightheadedness: Reduced blood flow to the brain due to CAD can cause episodes of dizziness or lightheadedness.
Nausea and indigestion: In some cases, CAD can cause symptoms that resemble indigestion, such as nausea, abdominal discomfort, or a feeling of fullness.
Sweating: Profuse sweating, particularly in combination with other symptoms, may be a sign of CAD.

It’s important to note that some individuals with CAD may not experience noticeable symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. This is known as silent ischemia. Silent ischemia can still cause damage to the heart, so it’s essential to be aware of risk factors and undergo regular check-ups with a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and early detection of CAD.

If you experience any symptoms that concern you, especially chest pain or shortness of breath, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly, as these could be signs of a heart attack or other serious cardiac events.

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