Coronary Artery Disease

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the most common types of heart disease, affecting nearly 17 million Americans. It’s also known as coronary heart disease or, simply, heart disease.

Your coronary arteries wrap around the surface of your heart muscle, providing it with the blood and oxygen it needs to function properly. Healthy coronary arteries are smooth and flexible. When you exercise, they easily accommodate the heart’s increased demand for blood. 

If you have been diagnosed with CAD, plaque has built up inside your coronary arteries, causing them to narrow and harden. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other materials found in the blood. It can accumulate in any of the body’s arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it restricts blood flow to the heart. This can lead to angina (chest pain), shortness of breath and other conditions, including heart attack.

Signs & Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

Because coronary artery disease develops gradually, it can easily go unnoticed until your signs and symptoms become severe. Signs of advanced coronary artery disease include:

  • A faster or irregular heartbeat
  • Angina, which is any type of pain, heaviness, tightness or pressure in your chest
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Light-headedness or fainting
  • Nausea
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body, including your arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained perspiration

Be sure to notify your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. If you suspect you may be having a heart attack, immediately call 911.

Causes of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops gradually, beginning in your teens or earlier, when streaks of fat begin to line the heart’s arteries. This, along with smoking and other risks, damages the artery lining. In an effort to heal, the arteries produce a sticky substance. Over a period of years, or even decades, this causes plaque to develop. 

Risks for Coronary Artery Disease

As with most types of cardiovascular disease, certain factors can increase your risk for developing coronary artery disease. Growing older and having a family history of CAD are unavoidable risks.

Perhaps the most important coronary artery disease informationis that you can avoid or manage the following risks associated with this condition:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease

When diagnosing coronary artery disease, your doctor will ask about your signs and symptoms, medical history and risks, and perform a physical exam. Depending on your results, he or she may also prescribe any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Computed tomography angiography (CTA)
  • Coronary angioplasty
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG
  • Electron beam CT scan (EBCT) 
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Nuclear scanning 
  • Stress test 

Treating Coronary Artery Disease

It is important to remember that prevention (link)is the best medicine. Your doctor can help you avoid or alleviate certain risks by recommending lifestyle changes. When that’s not enough, he or she may also prescribe any of the following medications:

  • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure
  • Aspirin to reduce blood clots
  • Beta-blockers to improve blood flow
  • Calcium channel blockers to relax the muscles surrounding the coronary arteries
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications to reduce the formation of blockages
  • Nitroglycerin to widen arteries
  • Statins (lipid-lowering agents)

Coronary artery disease is often linked to other treatable conditions. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience depression, erectile dysfunction or decreased libido.

If your CAD is severe, your doctor may perform any of the following procedures to restore and improve blood flow in your coronary arteries:

Leading Midwest Cardiology Program

Aurora is known for providing one of the best cardiology programs in the United States. Our multidisciplinary approach to care includes access to outstanding doctors and services for preventing, diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease. We also offer a full-service rehab program to ensure your optimal recovery.

Our doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. To find a doctor or cardiologist near you, we invite you to use our online directory. For assistance or to get a second opinion, please call 888-649-6892.