The vessels that supply blood to your heart can become clogged with deposits known as plaque. This eventually leads to coronary artery disease, or atherosclerosis. Buildup of plaque in your blood vessels causes them to narrow, which prevents adequate blood circulation. This means that the organs that need oxygen and blood won’t receive an adequate supply, leading to chest pain, shortness of breath or even heart attacks.
Regular primary care plays an important role in disease prevention and overall wellness. If you do not have a primary care physician, we invite you to visit our Primary Care website to find quality care close to home.
Our doctors, clinicians and staff members are devoted to providing the best care possible, delivered with human touch. We are committed to treating each and every person we serve with dignity and respect. To schedule an appointment with a specialist of the Seton Heart Institute, please call toll-free 877-860-1141 or request an appointment online.
Wellness & Prevention
Coronary artery disease can occur whenever the vessels that deliver blood throughout your body become diseased or damaged. This most commonly occurs from plaque buildup that causes your blood vessels to become narrow and rigid.
This disease does not appear quickly. The buildup of plaque in your arteries is a process that usually takes years. Because of this, coronary artery disease is a condition that is largely preventable with the right lifestyle changes:
- Stop smoking: Nicotine in cigarettes constricts your blood vessels. The chemicals in cigarettes can also inflame the lining of the vessel walls, making them more prone to disease.
- Control blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause artery walls to thicken and become hard. This shrinks the amount of space available for blood flow.
- Increase exercise: Regular exercise strengthens your heart muscle and improves the health of your cardiovascular system. It can also help manage other conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Reach a healthy weight: Obesity can cause many health complications for your body. Reducing extra body fat can help stop vessel inflammation and keep your heart strong.
Coronary artery disease is diagnosed with tests that measure the function of your heart and cardiovascular system.
Biologic markers taken in blood tests such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood glucose can help your doctor determine how healthy you are. If your results are concerning, your doctor may recommend extra tests:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): Used to make a record of electrical impulses that travel through your heart
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves produce images of your heart, allowing your doctor to tell if any parts are pumping blood effectively
- Stress test: Usually done together with an ECG or echocardiogram, your doctor will monitor you as you perform exercise to see how your heart performs when working hard
- Computerized tomography (CT scan): A scan of your body used to show calcium and plaque buildup in your vessels
- Angiogram: Your doctor will inject a dye into your blood as it passes through your heart. This highlights any narrowed or blocked vessels when viewed with an X-ray.
Coronary artery disease can usually be managed with lifestyle changes. Atherosclerosis is a condition that will get progressively worse until a cardiac event, like a heart attack, occurs. However, until that time, the damage can often be reversed.
Increasing your physical activity, improving your diet and managing other health conditions are all important parts of managing your artery disease. Your doctor may recommend medications to improve the health and efficiency of your heart. If your doctor feels that you are at risk for more severe complications, one of several procedures may be performed:
- Balloon angioplasty: A catheter with a small balloon tip is put into the blocked vessel. Your heart surgeon will expand the balloon to compress plaque against the artery wall and improve circulation.
- Coronary Bypass Surgery: A blocked blood vessel is replaced with an unblocked one taken from another area of the body. This allows the blood to “bypass” the blocked area and circulate throughout the body.
- Rotablation: A catheter is inserted into the blocked artery with a small device that spins. The spinning removes plaque buildup from the artery wall. This buildup enters your bloodstream and is filtered out by your body.
Coronary artery disease takes years to develop. Prevention is the best treatment method for atherosclerosis, as the negative effects can often be reversed if they are caught early.
Many kinds of treatments can be performed without surgery, but patients who receive bypass surgery will need to rest for several weeks after their operation. While these treatments can help restore blood flow, they don’t “cure” your artery disease. The only way to fix your clogged arteries is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to schedule regular appointments with your heart doctor to monitor the health of your heart and blood vessels.