Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition in which plaque (plak) builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-ol), calcium, and other substances found in the blood. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis).
Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. It also makes it more likely that blood clots will form in your arteries. Blood clots can partially or completely block blood flow.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when not enough oxygen-rich blood is flowing to an area of your heart muscle. Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also may occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to an area of your heart muscle is completely blocked. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching that area of heart muscle and causes it to die. Without quick treatment, a heart attack can lead to serious problems and even death.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure and arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs). Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood throughout your body. Arrhythmias are problems with the speed or rhythm of your heartbeat.
CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It's the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women; in the past, it was much more common in men. Lifestyle changes, medicines, and/or medical procedures can effectively prevent or treat CAD in most people.
- Lippincott WIlliams & Wilkins. Handbook of medical-surgical nursing (4th edition); Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; Ambler, PA. p. 212, (2005)