Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is extremely common and often deadly—it’s the single leading cause of death in the United States. Many of the causes are preventable. At Harrison, we’re dedicated to providing state-of-the-art treatment from our Heart and Vascular Center, staffed by professionals who care about you and your family when you’re ill—and who work with you to support your long-term health after diagnosis and treatment.
Coronary Artery Disease
Everyone can place themselves at greater risk for CAD when they smoke, eat a high-fat diet and lead an inactive lifestyle.
As people age, fatty deposits and scar tissue form plaque that clings to the inside of the arteries in the heart. The narrowing that results decreases the flow of oxygen-rich blood. Without enough oxygen, the heart muscle becomes strained. This is especially true when a person is emotionally stressed or involved in physical activity. As plaque builds, blood clots sometimes form and attach to plaque deposits, blocking arteries to an even greater degree.
CAD Symptoms to watch for
Some of the signs can seem unrelated to heart problems, so it’s important be aware of them and get medical attention when you notice:
- Chest pain, also called angina.
- Shortness of breath when exercising or during another vigorous activity
- A fast heartbeat
- Weakness, dizziness, and nausea
- Increased sweating
Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease
CAD is commonly diagnosed through a variety of exams and tests:
- Physical exam and extensive medical history
- EKG (Electrocardiogram): A simple, painless test that detects and records the heart’s electrical activity. It can show whether the walls in your heart's pumping chambers are thicker than normal and reveal signs of a previous or current heart attack.
- Stress test: Sometimes it is necessary to record an EKG during exercise (on a treadmill or bicycle). A radioisotope is injected during stress testing. This allows a special camera to take pictures showing the pattern of blood flow to parts of the heart.
- Cardiac Catheterization: A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your groin—or sometimes an arm or wrist—and threaded to your heart for a look inside your coronary (heart) arteries.
- Coronary angiography: A test to check heart blood flow and pumping efficiency.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: A painless, low-risk scan that yields detailed, cross-sectional images using X-ray and computer technology.
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A non-invasive exam that yields detailed images of the heart and cardiac vessels without any use of radiation.
- Coronary calcium scan: A sophisticated type of X-ray that reveals calcified specks that can signal coronary heart disease.
- Computed tomography (CT) angiography: Sophisticated X-ray technology that uses a contrast dye to make the blood vessels more visible.
Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease
Treatments are aimed at restoring coronary artery blood flow. At Harrison, we use the latest research and technology and advanced therapies to save lives when there has been a heart attack—and to prevent heart attacks in the future.
- During a heart attack: Medication is delivered intravenously to thin the blood and prevent platelets from forming.
- Continuing care: Medication may be prescribed to control symptoms and after-effects of surgery. These may include beta blockers to lower blood pressure, statins to reduce cholesterol, nitrates to reduce chest pain, and aspirin and other anti-platelet medications to slow heart rate and prevent blood clots. Taking them properly is a key part of treatment.
- Coronary artery bypass graft: Veins taken from another part of the body are used to reroute blood around a blocked area.
- Angioplasty: A long wire is threaded from the groin to the blocked area of the heart. A balloon attached to a catheter at the tip of the wire is inflated to clear and widen the clogged artery. When appropriate, a stent is placed in the artery to make sure it stays open.
Living a better life after a CAD diagnosis
At Harrison, we understand that life after a CAD event or diagnosis can be challenging—not just from a physical standpoint, but socially and emotionally. Involving family in decision-making and lifestyle changes is important, so we welcome loved ones as part of your team.
Current statistics from the American Heart Association:
- Coronary heart disease caused 425,425 deaths in 2006 and is the single leading cause of death in America today.
- An estimated 17.6 million people alive today have a history of heart attack, angina pectoris or both. This includes 9.2 million males and 8.4 million females.
- This year an estimated 1.26 million Americans will have a new or recurrent coronary attack.
- There are about 295,000 EMS-assessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrests annually in the United States.
- From 1996 to 2006 the death rate from coronary heart disease declined 36.4 percent.
- In 2006, coronary heart disease death rates per 100,000 people were 176.3 for white males and 206.4 for black males; and 101.5 for white females and 130.0 for black females. (Death rates are per 100,000 population. The rates use the year 2000 standard population for age adjustment.)