You might know coronary artery disease by one of its other names: atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”, or heart disease. Atherosclerosis refers to deposits on the walls of coronary and other major arteries, which are made up of fatty substances (primarily cholesterol) and muscle and connective tissue cells.
Nearly all adults have at least some atherosclerosis. When the condition is not controlled, it can lead to a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or another life-threatening event.
Over many years, atherosclerotic deposits grow. They can eventually cause the arteries to become narrower and less flexible, which reduces the amount of blood able to flow through. And the deposits themselves can actually rupture, leading to a blood clot and blockage in the artery.
One in two people over 65 have symptoms caused by coronary artery disease, such as shortness of breath, leg cramps, chest pain or abnormalities in their heartbeat. Even if someone has no specific symptoms a physician may suspect a problem exists for example, if the person’s blood cholesterol level is high.
If you have been told you have coronary artery disease, your treatment may well include drugs or therapies designed to prevent or treat any symptoms you might have, such as chest pain when you exercise. Even if you have no symptoms, you may also be asked to take certain precautions to reduce the likelihood you will have problems later on.
It’s recommended that everyone at risk for coronary artery disease, or who already has it, make changes to their lifestyle, such as:
Your doctor may prescribe a diet or exercise program for you to follow or may refer you to another health care specialist such as a dietitian.
Many people with coronary artery disease also must take medication designed to:
lower their blood cholesterol level
reduce their blood pressure (high blood pressure can also contribute to atherosclerosis)
decrease the likelihood of blood clots
Scientific studies have shown that these preventive measures are very effective ways to reduce your risk of having a heart attack, as well as stroke and other cardiovascular problems.