The heart has four chambers, divided by a muscular wall. Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs passes through the left atrium to the left ventricle, which pumps this blood to the rest of the body. After the body has used the oxygen in the blood, the now oxygen-poor blood flows through the right atrium to the right ventricle. From there, it’s pumped to the lungs to pick up more oxygen. The coronary arteries supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart so it can do its work.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. CAD develops when the arteries that supply blood to the heart—called the coronary arteries—become damaged or diseased. This can happen when a material called plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood, builds up over time in the coronary arteries, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. A buildup of plaque can narrow the arteries, reducing or blocking blood flow to the heart. If the coronary arteries stay blocked, the heart muscle may become permanently damaged.
Enlarged view of coronary artery
Many factors can contribute to CAD. Some can’t be changed, including your age, gender, and heredity. More people over age 65 develop CAD, as do those with a family history of heart disease. Women are diagnosed with CAD less often than men, but women may not recognize their symptoms because they can be different from men's, and they may not be correctly diagnosed when they do see a doctor.
Many risk factors for CAD can be controlled with lifestyle changes, medication, or medical procedures. Some risk factors include the following:
Some people with CAD have no symptoms until the disease has progressed, earning it the name of the "silent" disease. Having CAD that goes undiagnosed can lead to serious complications, including heart attack and stroke. That's why it's important to pay attention to any unusual symptoms and talk to your doctor about them.
When people do experience symptoms, they can include:
Women's symptoms can be different from men's, and may include:
It's important to call your doctor if you develop new symptoms of CAD or if your symptoms become more severe or more frequent. It's also a good idea to set up an appointment if you have risk factors for CAD even if you don't have any symptoms. CAD that goes undiagnosed and untreated can lead to serious complications, including:
If you have CAD, the sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner you and your doctor can decide on a treatment plan and lifestyle modifications that are right for you.
To learn more about getting diagnosed for CAD, see Stress Tests for CAD.
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Lexiscan (regadenoson) injection is a prescription drug given through an IV line that increases blood flow through the arteries of the heart during a cardiac nuclear stress test. Lexiscan is given to patients when they are unable to exercise adequately for a stress test.
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.