What is coronary artery disease (CAD)?
Dr. Frank Downey of Aurora Health Care answered:
Coronary arteries are the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Coronary artery disease begins when there is damage to the lining of the blood vessel. This damage can come as a result of multiple risk factors including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and even stress. As the lining of the blood vessel is damaged, plaque made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances builds up in the wall of the artery. Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart.
When a patient’s arteries are narrowed or blocked in this way, oxygen-rich blood can’t reach the heart, leading to chest pain and even heart attack. Similarly, reduced blood flow because of plaque build up can lead to carotid artery disease (when the arteries supplying your brain begin to narrow) and peripheral vascular disease (the narrowing of the vessels supplying the legs and other areas outside the heart and brain).
Diabetes increases the risk factor for heart disease, but you can take control of all risk factors in order to combat coronary artery disease. Change eating habits to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Work to lower blood pressure, and if you are a smoker, try to quit. Smoking doubles your risk of getting heart disease. Shedding extra weight can also help reduce your risk of heart disease.