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Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. You and your health care team may be able to help you reduce your risk for CAD.
CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries) and other parts of the body. Plaque is made up of deposits of cholesterol and other substances in the artery. Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time, which could partially or totally block the blood flow. This process is called atherosclerosis.
Too much plaque buildup and narrowed artery walls can make it harder for blood to flow through your body. When your heart muscle doesnít get enough blood, you may have chest pain or discomfort, called angina. Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.
Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart canít pump blood the way that it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, also can develop.
To find out your risk for CAD, your health care team may measure your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Being overweight, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and smoking tobacco are risk factors for CAD. A family history of heart disease also increases your risk for CAD. If youíre at high risk for heart disease or already have symptoms, your doctor can use several tests to diagnose CAD.
|Test||What it Does|
|ECD or EKG (electrocardiogram)||Measures the electrical activity, rate, and regularity of your heartbeat.|
|Echocardiogram||Uses ultrasound (special sound wave) to create a picture of the heart.|
|Exercise stress test||Measures your heart rate while you walk on a treadmill. This helps to determine how well your heart is working when it has to pump more blood.|
|Chest X-ray||Uses x-rays to create a picture of the heart, lungs, and other organs in the chest.|
|Cardiac catheterization||Checks the inside of your arteries for blockage by inserting a thin, flexible tube through an artery in the groin, arm, or neck to reach the heart. Health care professionals can measure blood pressure within the heart and the strength of blood flow through the heartís chambers as well as collect blood samples from the heart or inject dye into the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries).|
|Coronary angiogram||Monitors blockage and flow of blood through the coronary arteries. Uses X-rays to detect dye injected via cardiac catheterization.|
If you have CAD, your health care team may suggest the following steps to help lower your risk for heart attack or worsening heart disease:
- The Basics of EKG Whether you spell it EKG or ECG, it's an electrocardiogram. Learn the basics here.
- Chest X-Ray Why get a chest X-ray? What happens? Click here for quick answers.
- Stress Test Does your heart respond well to exertion? That's what a stress test looks for. Here's a straightforward description, including how to prepare for a stress test.
- Echocardiogram There are several variations on the echocardiogram, or "echo," as doctors call it. Learn about these ultrasound-like tests of the heart -- and find out what to expect -- here.
- Cardiac Catheterization Cardiac catheterization -- also called a coronary angiogram -- means running a catheter into your heart. It's done to help doctors see what's going on in there, and whether they need to operate. Here's where to learn about it.
- Electrophysiology Test Electrophysiology -- the EP test -- takes measurements of your heart rhythm -- recording the electrical activity and pathways of your heart. Start preparing for it by clicking here.
- CT Heart Scan Computed tomography (CT scan) of the heart can visualize your heart's anatomy. Calcium-score heart scan and coronary CT angiography are just a few types used to diagnose heart disease.
- Myocardial Biopsy A myocardial biopsy is when a doctor uses a special catheter to remove a piece of your heart tissue for examination. Click here to learn why it's done.
- Heart MRI A heart MRI is a great way for doctors to get a look -- from the outside -- at how your heart is working. Read about it here.
- Pericardiocentesis Pericardiocentesis -- also called a pericardial tap -- means using a needle to get a sample of the fluid in the sac surrounding the heart. Here's what you need to know.