Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood
to the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) become hardened and narrowed.
The arteries harden and narrow due to buildup of a material called plaque
(plak) on their inner walls. The buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis
(ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis). As the plaque increases in size, the insides of
the coronary arteries get narrower and less blood can flow through them.
Eventually, blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced, and, because blood
carries much-needed oxygen, the heart muscle is not able to receive the
amount of oxygen it needs. Reduced or cutoff blood flow and oxygen supply
to the heart muscle can result in:
Angina (AN-ji-na or an-JI-na). Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs
when the heart does not get enough blood.
Heart attack A heart attack happens when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque
in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to
that part of the heart muscle. Cells in the heart muscle begin to die
if they do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This can cause permanent
damage to the heart muscle.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and contribute to:
Heart failure In heart failure, the heart can’t pump blood effectively to the
rest of the body. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped
or is about to stop. Instead, it means that the heart is failing to pump
blood the way that it should.
Arrhythmias (a-RITH-me-as). Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of
the heart. Some can be quite serious.
CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of
death in the United States in both men and women.
To learn more about CAD, we invite you to visit the
National Institutes of Health website.