Coronary artery disease (CAD; also atherosclerotic heart disease) is the result of the accumulation of atheromatous plaques [this plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol etc.] within the walls of the coronary arteries that supply the myocardium (the muscle of the heart) with oxygen and nutrients. The deposition of the plaque in the lumen(free space in the artery for the flow of nutrients, oxygen etc.) of an artery causes narrowing of lumen of the artery by decreasing its diameter. It is sometimes also called coronary heart disease (CHD).
As the degree of coronary artery disease progresses, there may be near-complete obstruction of the lumen of the coronary artery, severely restricting the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the myocardium. Individuals with this degree of coronary artery disease typically have suffered from one or more myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), and may have signs and symptoms of chronic coronary ischemia, including symptoms of angina at rest and flash pulmonary edema.
CAD is the leading cause of death worldwide. While the symptoms and signs of coronary artery disease are noted in the advanced state of disease, most individuals with coronary artery disease show no evidence of disease for decades as the disease progresses before the first onset of symptoms, often a "sudden" heart attack, finally arises. After decades of progression, some of these atheromatous plaques may rupture and (along with the activation of the blood clotting system) start limiting blood flow to the heart muscle. The disease is the most common cause of sudden death, and is also the most common reason for death of men and women over 20 years of age. According to present trends in the United States, half of healthy 40-year-old males will develop CAD in the future, and one in three healthy 40-year-old women.
It is possible to have CAD and not notice any symptoms. Chest pain is the most common symptom, but the level of pain varies with each person. It usually increases with activity or strong emotion. Other symptoms include: shortness of breath, fatigue (especially during exertion), and weakness.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. Your doctor may also refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program to help improve your heart's ability to handle physical exertion.
There are some risks for heart disease that you can change. Avoidance of tobacco, regular exercise, healthy weight, treatment for depression, limited alcohol intake, and a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, limited dairy products, low sodium, and healthy fats.