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Coronary Artery Disease


Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a type of atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the buildup of deposits, or plaques, in the blood vessels. Over time, this buildup can interfere with the supply of blood to organs in your body.

Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries, which feed the heart muscle, are affected by this plaque buildup. CAD is the most common cause of heart attack and the leading cause of death worldwide.

Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the no. 1 killer of both men and women.

Researchers continue to investigate the possible causes of coronary artery disease. Although there does not seem to be one specific cause, there are some risk factors that have been linked to coronary artery disease and heart attacks, including age and family history of heart disease.

There are some risk factors that women should be aware of and discuss with their physician. If you are a woman, you have an increased risk of CAD if you have had:

  • Certain pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • Chronic inflammation conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

At Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, we believe it's important to educate women about their risks and symptoms. Learn more from our Women's Heart Health resources.

Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

Angina, or chest pain, is one of the noticeable signs of coronary artery disease. It is a warning sign that the heart is temporarily not getting enough blood and oxygen to handle its workload. Angina can feel like a heart attack, but it is different. Most angina attacks last from 2 to 15 minutes. This is because the blood supply is reduced but not cut off.

In some cases, heart attack may be the first sign of CAD. Call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of heart attack.

Other warning signs of CAD include:

  • Feeling of indigestion or "fullness"
  • Discomfort, aching, pressure, tightness, heaviness, or burning sensation in or near the chest, back, arms, shoulders, between shoulder blades, neck, throat or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue with activity (exertion)

Other symptoms, more common in women include unusual fatigue and sleeplessness.

Preventing Coronary Artery Disease

While coronary artery disease is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease, stabilize it, and also improve your quality of life, including:

  • Don't Smoke
  • Control cholesterol
  • Know your LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Exercise
  • Keep blood sugar within normal ranges
  • Manage stress
  • Control your weight
  • Eat a diet low in fat and cholesterol
  • Be more active
  • Take medications, as prescribed by your physician

Find out more about our patient classes designed to help you stay fit and healthy. Our courses include Diabetes Management and Nutrition for Today and Smoking Cessation.

Treatment for Coronary Artery Disease

Other than lifestyle changes, the treatments that have the best track record in prolonging life are non-invasive and include medications such as:

  • Aspirin
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) are also included among the most successful medications

At Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, we offer a number of preventative health programs and tools for our patients. Find out more about how we can help you Stay Heart Healthy.