Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease Image

Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the leading cause of death in America: every year over 500,000 Americans die of heart attacks or other complications of CAD. Also known as coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease occurs when the small arteries bringing oxygen-rich blood to the heart narrow, restricting blood flow. Lack of oxygen damages heart tissue and may eventually impair heart function.

CAD is often seen as a ‘male’ disease. In truth, however, women are as susceptible to coronary artery disease as men; they simply tend to develop the disease later in life.

Coronary Artery Disease Statistics

  • Approximately 13 million Americans live with coronary artery disease.
  • CAD kills 500,000 Americans a year.
  • 42 percent of initial heart attacks are fatal.

Chest Pain and Other Coronary Heart Disease Symptoms

Coronary artery disease develops slowly: decades may pass before arteries narrow enough to cause a heart attack. In some cases, CAD starts during childhood, but noticeable symptoms do not develop until adulthood.

Chest pain is often the first noticeable symptom of coronary artery disease. Starting behind the sternum, chest pain may radiate to the jaw, back, and shoulders. Depending on its duration, and the severity of other symptoms, chest pain associated with CAD can be either angina pectoris or a heart attack.

Angina Pectoris

Affecting some 6.8 million Americans, angina pectoris is a condition caused by coronary artery disease. Angina is a disease in which the arteries that supply the heart have narrowed, most commonly as a result of athersclerosis.

The main symptom of angina is chest pain. The narrowed arteries of angina cannot supply enough oxygenated blood to the heart during physical or emotional exertion, when the heart normally starts to beat faster. Fortunately, the chest pain experienced with angina usually subsides on its own after resting. Symptoms of Angina contains more detailed information on the detection and treatment of angina pectoris.

Heart Attack Symptoms

The chest pain felt during a heart attack is similar to that felt with angina. However, during a heart attack, chest pain does not diminish with time, angina medication or resting. In addition to chest pain, heart attack victims may experience nausea, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

Although angina can be a precursor to a heart attack, some people experience heart attacks without a history of angina. If a heart attack is suspected, immediate medical assistance should be received. The faster a heart attack is treated, the greater the chance of survival. Learning to identify the symptoms of a heart attack could save your life.

Chest Pain: Blood Clots and Other Causes

Not all chest pain can be traced to coronary artery disease, angina, or a heart attack. Many medical conditions cause chest pain. For example, in a situation known as a pulmonary embolism, blood clots block blood flow to the lungs. Like a heart attack, blood clots in the lungs cause severe chest pain and difficulty breathing, and require emergency treatment.

Other conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), stomach ulcers, gallbladder inflammation, and pancreatitis can also cause chest pain. Severe chest pain should always be evaluated immediately, since it could indicate a potentially fatal heart attack or blood clot.