Valley Heart & Vascular Institute - Cardiac Surgery
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Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease, also called arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, is caused by a buildup of cholesterol and fat inside the walls of the arteries that bring oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle. C.A.D. is caused by many factors, some that you can control and some that you cannot control.

Risk factors you cannot control include:

  • Male gender
  • Female gender (post-menopausal)
  • Family history of coronary disease
  • Age

Risk factors that can be controlled:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Weight (obesity)
  • Sedentary life style

C.A.D. develops over many years. Most everyone develops some degree CAD over their lifetime. It becomes problematic when blockages develop that compromise the flow of blood to the heart muscle, limiting the ability of the heart to pump effectively and get blood to the rest of the body. When an artery becomes 100% obstructed, a heart attack can occur (myocardial infarction).

Symptoms vary from patient to patient. Some people experience pain in their chest, neck or arms that may or may not be severe. The pain often occurs with exertion, but can occur at rest. Pain can last a few minutes or longer and may be relieved by nitroglycerin. Some people experience only fatigue and shortness of breath while others experience a heart attack as their first symptom of C.A.D.

It is important to be evaluated by a cardiologist if you have any symptoms that seem cardiac in nature. In situations where medical management or cath-lab procedures are not applicable, patients will be referred to a surgeon for coronary artery bypass surgery.

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