Coronary artery disease (CAD) is impaired blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It is also called coronary heart disease (CHD), and it is the most common form of heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), it is the leading cause of death of both men and women in the United States.

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

Your heart is a muscle. It is responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy heart moves approximately 3,000 gallons of blood through your body every day. Like any other organ or muscle, your heart must receive an adequate, dependable supply of blood in order to carry out its work. Oxygen and glucose-rich blood is delivered to the heart by the coronary arteries. The four primary coronary arteries are located on the surface of the heart:

  • right main coronary artery
  • left main coronary artery
  • circumflex artery
  • left anterior descending artery

If one or more of these arteries becomes partially or completely blocked, the flow of blood to your heart will be reduced. The most common cause of CAD is plaque buildup in the arteries.

What Happens When My Heart Doesn’t get Enough Blood?

When blood flow to your heart is restricted, you may begin to feel breathless. You may experience chest pain (angina). With less blood, your heart may become weak, and you may develop abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) or heart failure. Heart failure means that your heart cannot pump as much blood as your body needs. The more restricted the blood flow is, the more symptoms you will experience.

If an artery is so blocked that blood flow is cut off completely, your heart muscle will start to die. This is a heart attack.

Who Gets CAD?

Approximately 16.8 million Americans are affected by CAD. It is estimated that every 34 seconds, someone in the United States will have a heart attack. Men have a higher risk of developing heart disease than premenopausal women. Postmenopausal women have about the same risk as men.

What Is the Outlook for Someone with CAD?

Each case is different. In general, the earlier you are diagnosed, the better your chances of preventing extensive damage to your heart. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Take medications as directed, and make the recommended lifestyle changes.