Coronary artery disease is a common heart disease. The main arteries that supply the heart (coronary arteries) struggle to send enough blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Cholesterol deposits (plaque) and inflammation in the arteries of the heart are often the cause of coronary artery disease.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease occur when the heart does not have enough oxygen-rich blood. If you have coronary artery disease, reduced blood flow to the heart can cause chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath. A complete blockage of blood flow can cause a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease usually develops over decades. Symptoms may not be noticed until large blockages cause problems or a heart attack occurs. Coronary artery disease can be prevented by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Coronary artery disease can also be called coronary heart disease.
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Symptoms may go unrecognized at first or occur only when the heart is pounding during exercise. As the coronary arteries continue to narrow, less blood enters the heart, causing symptoms to become more severe and frequent.
Signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:
Chest pain (angina). You may feel pressure and tightness in your chest. Some people say that they feel as if someone is standing on their chest. Chest pain usually occurs in the middle or left side of the chest. Activity or strong emotions can trigger angina. The pain usually disappears within a few minutes after the triggering event. In some people, especially women, the pain is short or sharp, and can be felt in the neck, arms, or back.
Shortness of breath. You may feel like you can’t hold your breath.
Fatigue. If your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, you may feel unusually tired.
Heart attack. A completely blocked coronary artery can cause a heart attack. Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, pressure, shoulder and arm pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. Women have fewer symptoms such as neck and jaw pain, nausea, and fatigue. Some heart attacks don’t cause any noticeable signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor?
If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number. If you cannot get immediate medical attention, have someone take you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only with the last option.
Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of heart disease all increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease. If you are at high risk for coronary artery disease, talk to your healthcare provider. You may need tests to check for narrowed arteries and coronary artery disease.