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What Is Coronary Heart Disease?

Learn about coronary heart disease from Dr. Dennis Finkielstein in this Howcast video.


What is coronary artery disease? We sometimes shorten that to CAD. Coronary artery disease is any problem with the coronary arteries. Those are the arteries that actually feed the heart muscle blood. We call them "coronary" because they make two basic crowns, or corona, around the heart; one circling the heart at the top chambers and one going top to bottom.

The basic definition of coronary artery disease would be a buildup of atherosclerotic plaque, or cholesterol plaque, inside the arteries of the heart. The risk factors for this are some of the stuff we all know. That would be smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and things you inherit from your parents. Some of the symptoms of coronary artery disease would be chest pain or discomfort, trouble with effort intolerance, shortness of breath, lower extremity swelling, or palpitations.

Your doctor may diagnose you with coronary artery disease with some simple tests. One would be just listening to a description of your symptoms. You may be describing chest pain or shortness of breath. Another would be using an EKG. Or some more advanced imaging tests, like a stress test or a coronary angiogram. Luckily, we have some pretty good treatments for coronary artery disease.

Some of them are pretty basic, which involve medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, lifestyle modifications in terms of stopping smoking and eating healthy. And some are a little more advanced. Those could be procedures like a coronary angiogram, where we take pictures of the arteries of the heart. After we take pictures and identify a blockage, we may be able to open that blockage with things like a balloon or a stent. So that would be the basics of coronary artery disease.

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