The heart muscle, like all other muscles in the body, needs a steady blood supply to keep functioning. The arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle are the coronary arteries. Coronary artery disease is buildup of plaque (a collection of debris, cells and cholesterol) in the arteries. Frequency and severity of coronary artery disease tends to increase with age and risk factors such as:
- Family history of heart attack, bypass surgery, coronary artery angioplasty or stent placement, especially first-degree relatives (parents and siblings)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
The typical individual at risk for coronary artery disease is older than 40 years in age and has one of more of the risk factors listed above.
What problems does coronary artery disease cause?
When plaque in the coronary arteries becomes severe enough to interfere with blood flow to the heart muscle, the affected person can feel symptoms such as chest pain, chest pressure, jaw pain or breathlessness. In some cases, plaque in the coronary artery suddenly break and trigger a blood clot to form inside the artery, which can then completely block the artery and cause a heart attack. In people who develop problems from coronary artery disease, approximately 50% experience heart attack as their first symptom.
How is coronary artery disease detected?
Low-dose CT (computerized tomography) calcium scoring can identify the early stages of heart disease in patients without symptoms. Click here for more information, or talk to your primary care doctor about scheduling an appointment.