Keeping your blood flowing
Blood rushes through your arteries (blood vessels) like cars on an open highway. Yet, when plaque or cholesterol create roadblocks, blood flow is slowed or stopped—just like cars in a traffic jam.
If there are roadblocks in the arteries that lead to your heart, you have coronary artery disease (CAD).
At Virtua, we have heart doctors (cardiologists) with the skills to remove these roadblocks and help you manage CAD.
What is CAD?
Coronary artery disease happens when damaged or blocked arteries (major blood vessels) keep your heart from getting the oxygen-rich blood it needs. When the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen, you may have chest pain or even a heart attack.
Over time, plaque, made mostly of cholesterol, clings to the walls of your arteries. When plaque builds up, it hardens the arteries and restricts blood flow. If plaque develops in the coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients, it’s called coronary artery disease.
What are the symptoms of CAD?
Coronary artery disease takes many years to develop. So, you may not feel any symptoms until there’s a serious problem. While the warning signs are different for each person, the most common symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain (also called angina)
- Irregular heartbeat
Who is at risk for CAD?
Even though you may not feel the symptoms of coronary artery disease right away, you may be at risk if you are a person with:
- A family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- A smoking habit
- High cholesterol
- Obesity (body mass index of 30 or greater)
As you get older, plaque is more likely to cause blockages in your arteries. Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older should talk to their doctor about their family history and risk for CAD.
How can you prevent CAD?
Coronary artery disease is preventable. What you do today has a big impact on your future risk. Here are some ways to prevent CAD:
- Talk to your doctor about your family history
- Know your heart health numbers
- Manage high blood pressure
- Eat foods low in cholesterol
- Be active everyday
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
- Lose weight if you are overweight or maintain a healthy weight
How is CAD diagnosed?
Your diagnosis begins with a physical exam. If your doctor sees the signs of coronary artery disease, he or she will order tests, such as:
- Blood tests: These are used to detect substances in your blood that signal you are at risk for plaque buildup.
- ECG (electrocardiogram): This measures the strength and timing of your heartbeat by recording the heart’s electrical activity. ECGs are painless. A nurse places sticky patches on your chest that connect to wires that lead to a monitor.
- Stress test/nuclear stress test: This test evaluates the amount of activity your heart can handle before it encounters a problem. A monitor tracks your heart’s electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or ride a bike.
- Calcification imaging (CT or CAT scan): CT scans find plaque in the arteries that has hardened into calcium compounds (calcified). Similar to x-rays, CT scan equipment scans your body as you lie on an exam table.
- Cardiac catheterization: This is the most definitive diagnostic procedure. During a cardiac catheterization, a doctor inserts an IV into a blood vessel in your groin or leg and then a catheter into the IV. Using X-ray imaging, he or she threads the catheter into your heart, injects contrast material and takes images of your heart to identify blockages.
How is CAD treated?
Coronary artery disease is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medicines. In some cases, people with CAD may require surgery to repair blocked arteries. Treatments include:
- Nutrition and exercise programs for weight management
- Medications: These medications include blood thinners (such as aspirin), blood pressure medicines and statin therapy to lower cholesterol.
- Angioplasty with coronary artery stent: This surgery opens blocked arteries. The doctor uses a small balloon to push plaque to the sides of the artery wall. He or she may insert a small metal device, called a stent, to keep the artery open and allow for more blood flow.
- Bypass surgery:This surgery diverts blood flow in a blocked artery. Your doctor will take a healthy blood vessel from your leg or arm and use it to connect arteries in your heart. This connection bypasses arteries that are blocked.
- Thrombolytic therapy: This simple procedure breaks up blood clots by delivering medicine through an IV (a small needle that fits in your vein). This therapy is typically only used for patients experiencing a heart attack.
Is there support for people with CAD?
We offer you expert help during your visit with us and at home. Talk to your doctor about our unique support programs:
- Diet and nutrition support: Our experts work with you to customize a food plan, set nutrition goals and help you make healthy food choices.
- Cardiac rehabilitation: Our team works with you to implement a medically supervised exercise program and lifestyle changes.
- Home care: A care team visits you at home to review medications, discuss lifestyle goals, and monitor your heart health.
Together with your care team, you can manage your coronary artery disease.