Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): What You Need to Know

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): What You Need to Know

Coronary artery disease, also known as CAD, is the most common type of heart disease and a leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.

What are the causes and risks?

This condition is a result of a buildup of cholesterol and other material, known as plaque, on the walls of the arteries that can cause health problems and lead to a heart attack.

What types of patients are most at risk?

According to the American Cancer Society, identified risk factors include high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, inactive lifestyle, family history of CAD or other heart diseases, diabetes, smoking tobacco, being post-menopausal for women and being over the age of 45 for men. Obesity has also been evaluated as a potential risk factor.

What are the symptoms of CAD?

The most common symptom of CAD is angina, which is a term used to describe discomfort and pain in the chest. When there’s a buildup of plaque in the arteries, the passages become narrow. Angina is a common response, signaling blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body may be hindered.

How is CAD diagnosed?

In many instances of CAD a heart attack, unfortunately, leads to diagnosis, but there are several tests your doctor can use to diagnosis CAD and other heart diseases before they become fatal.

  • Cardiac catheterization: An invasive procedure that can identify blockages in the arteries using a catheter. A dye can also be injected during this process, allowing a coronary angiogram to identify blockages and plaque buildup via X-ray.
  • Echocardiogram: Utilizes ultrasound technology to develop an image of the heart.
  • Chest X-ray: Like the echocardiogram, this method creates an image of the heart and surrounding organs in the chest using X-ray technology.
  • Coronary angiogram: Utilizes a CT scan to identify calcium plaque.
  • ECG or EKG (electrocardiogram): Used to monitor and record electrical signals in your heart, looking for abnormalities.
  • Exercise stress test: Useful in gauging how well your blood moves through the body when it’s forced to pump faster.

Additional methods to test for CAD may be available. Speak with your doctor about the most appropriate method for you.

How is CAD treated?

There are treatment options available for CAD. After confirming a diagnosis of CAD, your doctor will evaluate your condition and may prescribe lifestyle changes, medication and/or surgical interventions. Lifestyle changes to consider are quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet, being more physically active, reducing stress and focusing on weight loss. Medications your doctor may prescribe include cholesterol-modifying medications, aspirin, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, ranolazine, nitroglycerin and/or angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). Angioplasty and stent placement or coronary artery bypass surgery are also effective options for treating CAD surgically.

We can help.

The New Mexico Heart Institute (NMHI), a department of Lovelace Medical Center, is a leader in the state of New Mexico and the southwest region in research and clinical trials related to cardiac care. Our cardiologists are highly trained and expertly skilled in cardiac care, developing new methods to treat some heart conditions that were previously considered untreatable.

Learn your risks for CAD by seeing a cardiologist at the New Mexico Heart Institute. To schedule an appointment, call 505.841.1000.