Coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when these arteries become damaged or diseased. The cause mainly is cholesterol-containing deposits (plaque) on your arteries. Narrowing of the arteries occur when plaques build up, causing your heart to receive less blood. The decreased blood flow, eventually, may cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, or other coronary artery disease signs and symptoms. Heart attack occurs when there is a complete blockage.
CAD can go virtually unnoticed until you have a heart attack because coronary artery disease often develops over decades. It can lead to angina or acute myocardial infarction if left untreated. However, one can actually do a lot to prevent and treat coronary artery disease, starting from committing to a healthy lifestyle. Treatment for coronary artery disease can include medications, or surgical and minimally invasive procedures.
There are many risk factors for CAD which includes:
- Increasing age. Increasing age and getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries.
- Male Sex. As compared to women, men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. For women, however, the risk increases after menopause.
- Family history. Higher risk of coronary artery disease is there if a family history of heart disease is present, especially if a close relative developed heart disease at an early age. You have the highest risk if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55, or your mother or a sister developed it before age 65.
- Cigarette smoking. Smoking causes a constriction in your blood vessels, and can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attack incidence in persons who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day is six times that of persons who’ve never smoked.
- High blood pressure. High blood pressure which is untreated can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the channel through which blood can flow.
- High blood cholesterol levels. The risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis increases with high levels of cholesterol in your blood. High cholesterol can be caused by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as the “bad” cholesterol. Atherosclerosis is also promoted by a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the “good” cholesterol.
- Diabetes. An increased risk of CAD is seen in patients with diabetes. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Obesity. Being overweight typically worsens other risk factors.
- Physical inactivity. Low level of exercise or it’s complete absence is associated with coronary artery disease and some of its risk factors, as well.
- High stress. Unmanaged mental stress in your life can damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for coronary artery disease.
In some cases, CAD develops without any classic risk factors. Researchers are studying other possible factors, including:
- Sleep apnea. A condition in which you repeatedly stop and start breathing while you’re sleeping.
- C-reactive protein. Increased amount of this normal blood protein is seen whenever there is swelling in the body.
- Homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid your body uses to make protein and to build and maintain tissue, may increase your risk of coronary artery disease.
- Fibrinogen. It is a blood clotting protein. Increased level of this protein causes increased clumping of platelets, the type of blood cell largely responsible for clotting. That can cause a clot to form in an artery, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
- Lipoprotein (a). Lipoprotein (a) is formed when a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particle attaches to a specific protein. High level of this may disrupt your body’s ability to dissolve blood clots and increases risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease and heart attack.