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Coronary artery disease – Symptoms and causes

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)

Coronary artery disease


What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is a disease that develops when your major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients (coronary arteries) become damaged or diseased.

Cholesterol-containing deposits, also known as a plaque in your arteries and inflammation, are usually the cause of coronary artery disease. When plaque develops, your coronary arteries are narrowed, and can decrease the blood flow to your heart.

Eventually, the decreased blood flow may lead to chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, or other coronary artery disease signs and symptoms. A complete blockage can certainly cause a heart attack.

Because coronary artery disease often increases over decades, you might not notice a problem until you have a significant blockage or a heart attack. But there’s plenty you can do to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. A healthy lifestyle can make a big influence.

How common is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is considered as one of the most common heart diseases nowadays. Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?

Once plaque continues to build up in your coronary arteries, you may experience coronary artery disease signs and symptoms, including:

Chest pain (angina)

You may seem pressure or tightness in your chest, as if someone were standing on your chest. This pain, also known as angina, frequently occurs on the middle or left side of the chest.

Angina is generally triggered by physical or emotional stress. The pain usually goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity. However, in some cases, especially women, this pain may be fleeting or sharp and felt in the neck, arm or back.

Shortness of breath

Obviously, if your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, you may develop shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with exertion.

Heart attack

A completely blocked coronary artery may cause a really serious condition, heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing pressure in your chest, and pain in your shoulder or arm, sometimes with shortness of breath and sweating.

Women are somewhat more likely than men are to experience less typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack, such as neck or jaw pain.

Unfortunately, sometimes a heart attack occurs without any apparent signs or symptoms.

 When should I see my doctor?

If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, immediately call your local emergency number. If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort.

If you have risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, diabetes, a strong family history of heart disease or obesity — talk to your doctor. He or she may want to test you for the condition, especially if you have signs or symptoms of narrowed arteries.


What causes coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is proved to start with damage or injury to the inner layer of a coronary artery, sometimes as early as childhood. The damage may be caused by numerous factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes or insulin resistance
  • Sedentary lifestyle

It is noticed that once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, fatty deposits (plaque) made of cholesterol and other cellular waste products tend to accumulate at the site of injury in a process called atherosclerosis.

In case the surface of the plaque breaks or ruptures, blood cells called platelets that have a function to clump at the site to try to repair the artery. This clump can block the artery, leading to a heart attack.

Besides atherosclerosis, several other following rare causes of damage or blockage to the coronary artery also limit blood flow to the heart. These causes, which are typically related to atherosclerosis, are:

  • An embolism, or a blockage in the coronary artery
  • An aneurysm, or inflamed coronary arteries
  • Artery vasculitis, or thickened coronary artery walls
  • A spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or buildup of blood in between the layers of the coronary artery wall

Risk factors

What increases my risk for coronary artery disease?

It is believed that there a great number of risks are able to cause the coronary artery disease. These risk factors may include:


Possibly getting older can increase your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries.


Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.

Family history

A family history of heart disease is related to a higher risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a close relative developed heart disease at an early age. Your risk is highest if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or a sister developed it before age 65.


People who are addicted to smoke have a significantly increased risk of heart disease. Not only that, but exposing others to your secondhand smoke also increases their risk of coronary artery disease.

High blood pressure

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the channel through which blood can flow.

High blood cholesterol levels

High levels of cholesterol in your blood are able to increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. High cholesterol can be engendered by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as the “bad” cholesterol. A low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the “good” cholesterol, can be a sign of atherosclerosis.


Diabetes is related to an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Overweight or obesity

Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.

Physical inactivity

Lack of exercise also is associated with coronary artery disease and some of its risk factors, as well.

High stress

Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for coronary artery disease.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?

Because coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis can show no symptoms, your doctor may recommend several extra tests to confirm their diagnosis.

These tests might include:

An electrocardiogram, or EKG

This test enables your doctor to measure your heartbeat and some abnormalities in your heart

An echocardiogram

This can help your doctor to get a picture of your heart

An exercise stress test

To measure heart rate while your heart is at work is the function of this test.

A chest X-ray

It can create a picture of your heart, lungs, and other chest organs

Cardiac catheterization

This test can assist to check your arteries for blockage

A coronary angiogram

It can monitor the blockage and flow of your blood.

How is coronary artery disease treated?

A number of treatment options will be recommended by your doctor, once this disease is diagnosed

Lifestyle changes

Making a commitment to the following healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way toward promoting healthier arteries:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Reduce stress.


Plenty of drugs can be used to treat coronary artery disease, including:

Cholesterol-modifying medications

By decreasing the amount of cholesterol in the blood, especially low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or the “bad”) cholesterol, these drugs decrease the primary material that deposits on the coronary arteries.


Your doctor may recommend taking a daily aspirin or other blood thinner. This can reduce the tendency of your blood to clot, which may help prevent obstruction of your coronary arteries.

Beta blockers

These drugs slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure, which decreases your heart’s demand for oxygen. If you’ve had a heart attack, beta blockers reduce the risk of future attacks.


Nitroglycerin tablets, sprays and patches can control chest pain by temporarily dilating your coronary arteries and reducing your heart’s demand for blood.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These similar drugs decrease blood pressure and may help prevent progression of coronary artery disease.

Procedures to restore and improve blood flow

Sometimes more serious treatment is needed. Here are some options:

Angioplasty and stent placement (percutaneous coronary revascularization)

Your doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the narrowed part of your artery. A wire with a deflated balloon is passed through the catheter to the narrowed area. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the deposits against your artery walls.

Coronary artery bypass surgery

A surgeon creates a graft to bypass blocked coronary arteries using a vessel from another part of your body. This allows blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed coronary artery.

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Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage coronary artery disease?

You can make many lifestyle changes to decrease your risk of developing this serious condition and its complications. Here are some useful tips you should follow:

  • Eating a healthy diet and reducing your salt intake is a great way to prevent this disease
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight
  • Increasing your physical activity
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Managing diabetes
  • Managing high cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


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