C O R O N A R Y A R T E R Y D I S E A S E
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is blockage of the vessels which supply the heart with blood. This disease process is called "arteriosclerosis", or commonly "hardening of the arteries". In this process, cholesterol and other fats are deposited in the layers of the arteries, narrowing the channel for blood to flow.
CAD occurs to some degree as a natural result of aging. There are several reasons, called "risk factors", that it may occur at a younger age or to a more severe degree. Some of these factors can be changed, and some cannot.
Things we can't change
- Male sex or women who are past their menopause (although women can take hormone replacement therapy).
- Family history of early CAD in mother, father, sisters or brothers
Things we can change, or at least control:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle, (not exercising enough)
Blockages begin to occur at an early age. "Fatty streaks" can be demonstrated in teenagers. A little bit of blockage is generally harmless. If the vessel becomes narrowed by 50% or so, there can be less blood flow than needed at periods of increased need, such as exercise. When the vessel is narrowed 90%, there is the potential for lack of blood supply at rest. When the vessel becomes 100% closed, a heart attack ("myocardial infarction") generally occurs. If the vessel closes gradually, the muscle may obtain flow from other vessels ("collateral circulation"), in a sense "doing its own bypass".
ęCOPY;1997 HeartPoint Updated July 1997
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