Coronary Artery Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.

Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, refers to a narrowed or blocked heart artery. It can develop over several years, but strike without warning in the form of a heart attack, chest pain or other emergency condition. Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute is a national and international leader in treating coronary artery disease. Our doctors are world-renowned experts in the diagnosis and the latest treatment options for coronary artery disease.

Many cardiovascular conditions, including coronary artery disease, are related to a process known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis in the body

Throughout your life, arteries in your body build up plaque, a waxy substance made up of cholesterol and other materials. This process, known as atherosclerosis, leads to narrowed, or “hardened” arteries. When this happens, it is more difficult for blood to flow through your arteries, which can lead to several associated conditions, including stroke, carotid artery disease (plaque in the neck arteries that supply the brain), peripheral artery disease and chronic kidney disease.

The development of coronary artery disease

When atherosclerosis is in the arteries that supply the heart muscle, it’s known as coronary artery disease. This plaque buildup can lead to a number of associated complications and conditions, including:

  • Completely blocked arteries: When a complete blockage lasts for three months, it’s known as a chronic total occlusion or CTO. Henry Ford offers several advanced treatments for CTO, including robotic heart surgery and a minimally invasive interventional procedure.
  • Arrhythmia: Also known as an irregular heartbeat. There are several types, some of which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Angina: As coronary arteries narrow and reduce blood flow, it can produce a pain in the chest known as angina, or angina pectoris. There are two kinds. Stable angina only produces pain when your heart is working harder, such as during exercise. Unstable angina is pain that occurs even when you’re resting. This is an emergency condition.
  • Heart failure: When the heart is not able to pump blood as efficiently, it cannot deliver enough oxygen or other nutrients to the rest of the body. This poor circulation can lead to several associated effects, which ultimately “congest” the body. At this point, it’s known as congestive heart failure.
  • Heart attack: When one or more of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, nutrient flow to the heart muscle stops. This tissue becomes damaged and causes a heart attack.

Treatment for coronary artery disease depends on which of these or other related complications you’re experiencing. However, if you are experiencing unstable angina pain or suspect you’re having a heart attack, immediately call 911 or have someone drive you to the emergency room.

Coronary artery disease symptoms

In some cases, there may be no symptoms. When there are, they can include:

  • Chest pain
  • A feeling of tightness, squeezing or burning in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain outside of the chest, such as in the arms, shoulders, jaw or back

Diagnosis and testing for heart disease

At your initial visit, your cardiologist will ask you about any symptoms and conduct a complete physical exam as well as a medical and family history. Your physician may also order routine blood tests, such as a screening to check your cholesterol levels. In addition, we may refer you for advanced diagnostic testing at Henry Ford Cardiovascular Laboratories, where we offer a complete spectrum of testing.

Risk factors for coronary artery disease

Major known risk factors for coronary artery disease include:

  • Cholesterol, including high LDL (bad) cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol and high triglycerides (a type of fat)
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Stress

In recent years, researchers have also identified other potential causes of heart disease. These include sleep apnea and high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid).

Reduce your risk for coronary artery disease

Certain risk factors, such as age and family history, cannot be controlled. However, by adopting a healthy, balanced lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease. This includes good nutrition, exercise, weight management, minimizing your stress and quitting smoking if you’re a smoker.

Are you concerned about your risk for coronary artery disease? We offer an online heart disease health risk assessment as well as heart disease prevention programs and quit-tobacco programs.