Treating coronary artery disease usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medications like statins or beta-blockers to prevent complications. Severe cases may require surgery.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops when plaque builds up in your heart’s arteries. Also called coronary heart disease, experts consider CAD the most common heart condition in the United States. Treatment is essential to help prevent future heart attacks or heart failure.

To treat CAD, a doctor will likely recommend a plan that includes a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Here’s a roundup of the most common treatment options for CAD.

When combined with medications, lifestyle changes can help prevent complications from CAD. A doctor might recommend the following:

A doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications to help treat CAD. These treat specific risk factors that can worsen CAD, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), or heartbeat problems. They can also help reduce CAD-related symptoms.

Blood thinners

Blood thinners, such as aspirin, may help reduce your risk of blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke in the future. While effective, blood thinners may also carry the chance of excessive bleeding.

Statins

Doctors prescribe statins to help lower blood cholesterol. Statins can also reduce the rate of plaque buildup in your arteries and help prevent a future heart attack.

A doctor may also prescribe statins if you are over age 40 and have risk factors for CAD.

Statins are known to cause side effects, so you may need to try a few different types before finding the most tolerable statin for you. Some of these side effects include:

  • pain or soreness in muscles
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • weakness
  • digestive upset
  • problems sleeping

Beta-blockers

Beta-blockers may help lower your blood pressure, placing less strain on your heart. The American Heart Association considers an ideal blood pressure to be 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower.

Beta-blockers also help by lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen demand of your heart.

Possible side effects from these medications include dizziness, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.

Nitrates

If you experience chest pain (angina) related to CAD, a doctor may prescribe nitrates. Also known as vasodilators, these medications help relieve chest pain symptoms by widening the arteries in your heart.

Due to their vasodilating effects, nitrates may cause side effects such as skin flushing, headaches, and dizziness.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Like beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors can help with blood pressure management. They block angiotensin-2 hormones that can cause your blood vessels to narrow.

Possible side effects include dizziness, coughing, and kidney problems.

Calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) may be another option for hypertension. These medications work by relaxing the blood vessels so they can widen. CCBs doctors prescribe to treat CAD and coronary spasm include:

Like nitrates, CCBs may cause mild skin flushing and headaches.

In CAD cases where plaque buildup has blocked your arteries, you may require surgery. A doctor may consider the following procedures to ensure blood can flow to your heart. Like any surgery, there may be a chance of infections, bleeding, and other complications.

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)

Also called cardiac angioplasty, a doctor may recommend PCI to help remove plaque and open up your arteries to reduce symptoms of angina. The surgeon may also install a stent to help prevent future arterial narrowing.

While PCI may help alleviate certain symptoms of CAD, it does not directly prevent some of its complications, including heart failure.

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)

You may need CABG, or heart bypass surgery, if you have blocked arteries in your heart. Doctors typically reserve this for severe CAD only.

During CABG, a surgeon creates a bypass in the heart with healthy arteries and veins. This helps improve blood flow while also decreasing your chance of a heart attack.

Coronary endarterectomy

Doctors specifically recommend coronary endarterectomy for people with CAD who also have severe angina that doesn’t respond to medications. During the procedure, a surgeon scrapes plaque buildup from the arteries. This can be done together with CABG.

Heart transplant

A heart transplant is the most advanced surgical option for CAD. It involves a total replacement of your heart with one from a healthy donor.

Doctors reserve this procedure for the most severe cases of CAD when the heart is severely damaged. They may also use it in cases of heart failure.

While one 2020 study found the use of alternative treatments was common in people with CAD, clinical research backing specific remedies is lacking. It’s important to talk with a doctor before taking any vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements, such as:

Given the lack of research supporting alternative remedies, it’s important to follow a treatment plan based on established medical guidelines.

Preventing coronary artery disease

A healthy lifestyle can help prevent CAD, especially if you have a family history of the condition. Consider adopting heart-healthy changes, such as:

  • following an exercise program
  • eating a diet that focuses on whole foods
  • managing stress
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Quitting smoking and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption may also help prevent this heart condition. Binge drinking (consuming too much alcohol in a short time) can increase your chance of heart attack. If you do drink, talk with a doctor about how much is safe for you.

You may also help prevent CAD by treating and managing any underlying health conditions that can increase your risk. These include high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension.

Was this helpful?

Consider these common questions about CAD that you can discuss further with a doctor:

What is the most common treatment for coronary artery disease?

There’s no single treatment for CAD, but medical therapy is the best option.

Many people use statins to reduce blood cholesterol, which contributes to plaque buildup in their arteries. However, you may need additional medications, depending on whether you have hypertension or other underlying conditions.

If medications don’t reduce your symptoms, PCI is the next step.

Can I live a long life with coronary artery disease?

Untreated or undertreated CAD may lead to serious and life threatening complications, such as cardiac arrest, heart attack, and heart failure.

But early detection and advancements in treatment have led to an improved outlook. As one 2022 study found, the average 7-year survival rate after a heart attack was 74%.

What should you avoid if you have coronary artery disease?

Experts recommend that people with CAD avoid smoking and being around secondhand smoke. They may also recommend avoiding foods high in sodium and fat, sitting too much, and drinking alcohol.

Treatment for CAD involves a combination of medications and lifestyle changes to help prevent future complications, such as a heart attack or heart failure. More severe cases may require surgery to improve the function of your heart.

CAD is a complex condition, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Consider talking with a doctor about your symptoms and risk factors so you can come up with a plan together.