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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels, the coronary arteries, that supply blood to the heart are not able to provide enough blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscle. Cholesterol buildup in these arteries most often leads to coronary artery disease (CAD), leading to a lack of blood flow and, eventually, a heart attack.

Symptoms of coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease develops slowly as cholesterol plaque builds up in the arteries. Signs may only present themselves once the heart is beating rapidly, like during exercise. Pay attention to symptoms like:

What are the causes of coronary artery disease?

What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Family history

How do I prevent coronary artery disease?

Diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease is often diagnosed using some type of test, like an echocardiogram or stress test. Treatment includes medicinal or surgical options, like angioplasty and stent placement or coronary artery bypass graft surgery, when an artery needs to be unblocked.

If you are having a heart attack, which happens when parts of the heart do not receive enough blood flow, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain. Pain in the center or left side of the chest is one of the most common signs of a heart attack. You may feel a tightness, fullness, or squeezing sensation that can last for several minutes.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, back, and stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. While this symptom usually accompanies chest pain, it can occur before the discomfort starts.
  • Lightheadedness. In combination with other symptoms, feeling as though you are about to pass out is a common indicator of a heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations. You may begin to feel irregular or skipping heartbeats.

Heart attack symptoms can happen on and off, or continuously over the course of a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are, if you have been experiencing chest pain for several days or weeks, it is not related to a heart attack.

If you see somebody having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Have them chew and swallow an aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots if they are conscious. If they lose consciousness, administer CPR or follow the instructions on an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available.

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