A self-care regimen that prioritizes heart-healthy lifestyle habits and a proactive approach to managing your overall health and well-being may help prevent and treat coronary artery disease (CAD).

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. It’s the main cause of heart attacks, but it can also lead to heart failure, arrhythmias, and angina (chest pain caused by narrowed arteries restricting blood flow to your heart).

Adopting a self-care approach to heart health may help prevent or lower your risk of CAD. Self-care is also an important part of CAD treatment, though heart disease often requires medications and procedures to maintain healthy circulation.

Keep reading to learn about self-care treatment and prevention recommendations for CAD.

Risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD)

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When it comes to the prevention and treatment of CAD at home, self-care ranges from simple, healthy choices to behaviors that require ongoing commitment and, for many people, major lifestyle adjustments.

But the rewards may be worth it. A 2017 study suggests that while inadequate medical care may have an estimated 10% impact on illness and disease, healthy behaviors can contribute about 40% to overall physical health. The study also noted that self-care behaviors that promote cardiovascular health also extend benefits to other aspects of your health.

The following are some well-established self-care recommendations for better heart health.

Eat a balanced diet

Developing a diet that’s low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugar is a good start to reducing your CAD risk or managing the condition if you’ve already received a diagnosis of it.

Saturated and trans fats contribute to high cholesterol, while too much sodium can raise your blood pressure. Too much added sugar can raise your blood glucose levels and increase your chances of developing diabetes. A fiber-rich diet can also help lower your cholesterol.

Look to transition to a Mediterranean-style diet or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet. Start by making simple food swaps, like a small bowl of berries for dessert instead of full-fat ice cream.

Get regular exercise

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. If walking isn’t your thing, then consider activities such as:

  • aerobics and dance
  • basketball
  • cycling
  • soccer
  • swimming
  • tennis

Keep in mind that if you have CAD or other serious health concerns, you should consult a healthcare professional before starting an exercise program.

Maintain a moderate weight

Carrying too much extra weight can contribute to high blood pressure and put an unhealthy strain on your cardiovascular system and joints (which can then affect your ability to exercise).

If you have overweight or obesity, you can try to set a realistic weight-loss goal of 1 or 2 pounds a week. Try to maintain a moderate weight by shifting to a balanced diet and getting more exercise, rather than relying on fad diets or supplements.

Adopt other self-care behaviors

Other heart-healthy changes you can start making today include:

Can coronary artery disease (CAD) improve with self-care?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that everyday acts of self-care can help prevent heart disease. Numerous studies, including a 2017 report, also suggest that healthy lifestyle behaviors can play a significant role in complementing standard CAD treatment, including medications and medical procedures.

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While doing the right things for your heart is critical to preventing or treating CAD, it’s just as important to avoid certain behaviors and activities that could undermine your best efforts to stay healthy.

Some of the most important things to avoid when you have CAD include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Drinking too much (more than two drinks per day for people assigned male at birth and one drink for people assigned female at birth) can raise your blood pressure and contribute to other health risks.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Sitting too much and exercising too little can lead to unhealthy weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other health risks. A 2019 study suggests that moving from a sedentary lifestyle to one that includes more physical activity is one of the simplest and most effective means of lowering cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Smoking: The chemicals in cigarette smoke can harm the walls of the arteries, making them inflamed and vulnerable to plaque buildup. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that about 34,000 nonsmokers die of heart disease every year due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

If you ever experience chest pain or shortness of breath, especially without an explanation, get a medical evaluation immediately. These can be symptoms of a heart attack. Even if they’re fleeting symptoms, consider them as warnings that heart disease may be a concern and make an appointment with a doctor soon.

Symptoms of CAD and other types of heart disease include:

  • lightheadedness, which could indicate reduced blood flow to your brain
  • pain in your arms, shoulder, neck, or jaw (these can also be symptoms of a heart attack)
  • reduced exercise capacity (feeling tired or winded after activities that you used to handle easily)

Symptoms of angina (chest pain that results from a lack of blood flow to your heart) include:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • jaw pain

Angina symptoms typically occur with some kind of exertion, but then improve with rest. Atypical or unusual symptoms of angina, which often occur in people assigned female at birth, older people, and people with diabetes, may include abdominal pain, fatigue, or just not feeling right.

Language matters

In this article, we use “male” and “female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes.

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

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Diagnosing heart disease

When you’re at the doctor, certain tests may be recommended to assess the health and function of your heart. Some of them may include:

Medical treatments

If CAD is diagnosed, it’s likely you’ll need some type of treatment beyond self-care at home. Treatment may include medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and, if there’s significant blockage in a coronary artery, procedures such as:

  • placing a stent in the affected artery
  • performing a coronary artery bypass graft, which involves attaching a blood vessel taken from elsewhere in your body to a narrowed artery and rerouting blood flow around the blockage
  • being started on a daily aspirin or similar medication

A 2021 study suggests that participants in cardiac rehabilitation experienced improved quality of life after learning more about home self-care during their rehab.

You don’t have to go through cardiac rehab to begin making heart-healthy changes today that will help lower your risk of CAD or help support ongoing treatment for the condition.

Making simple lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet and more exercise, can be part of a deliberate self-care approach to better heart health.