What is Coronary Artery Disease?

By  , Expert Content
Mar 28, 2012

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease is caused due to plaque build-up inside the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. The heart muscle needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood to function appropriately. Any interruption in the blood supply can cause damage to the heart muscle. The amount of damage caused depends on the size of the region supplied by the blocked artery and other factors such as the time between injury and treatment.

Plaque formed in arteries is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other elements present in the blood. The build-up of plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis and this occurs over many years. The plaque hardens slowly and narrows the coronary arteries. Narrowing of the arteries limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Depending on the severity of narrowing, you may or may not have symptoms of angina or a heart attack. An area of plaque ruptures (break open) sooner or later and causes formation of blood clot on the surface of the plaque in the artery. If the clot is big, it can completely block blood flow through the artery and cause heart attack.

  • Angina (or chest pain): Narrowing of the arteries limits the flow of blood to the heart muscle and causes chest pain. The pain may feel like a discomfort, pressure or squeezing in your chest. It may extend to your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. Many people mistake angina pain for indigestion.
  • Heart attack: If the blood supply to a section of heart muscle is blocked, it causes heart attack. If blood flow isn’t restored promptly, the heart muscle in the region begins to die. Depending on the size of the injury, a heart attack can lead to serious problems and even death if it is not treated promptly and appropriately.

Over time, the reduced blood flow to the heart can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure and arrhythmias (even though the person may not have a heart attack). In heart failure, the heart muscle becomes weak and does not have the strength to pump blood properly throughout the body. The person develops symptoms of heart disease such as shortness of breath and fatigue. Arrhythmia means that there is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. Coronary artery disease has become a leading killer of both men and women. Prognosis of coronary artery disease improves with early diagnosis and treatment.


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