Many people are diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), but medication and lifestyle changes may help to slow the progression of the condition in some cases.

Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in the United States and is caused by a buildup of plaque in your heart’s arteries.

While having this type of heart disease increases your risk of a heart attack in the future, it is possible to take steps to partially reverse coronary artery disease. This involves a combination of recommended medical interventions, as well as diet and lifestyle changes.

Once coronary artery disease develops, it’s important to take such steps to minimize further heart damage. Read on to learn how much it’s really possible to reverse heart damage, and what you can do to prevent further progression of this serious, but common heart disease.

Once you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), you may be focused on making changes to help prevent worsening heart disease and possible related complications, such as heart attack and heart failure.

While there’s no evidence to suggest that CAD can be completely reversed, several things can slow its progression.

Medication, particularly statins and PCSK9 inhibitors, are usually a first-line treatment for CAD. Both can help to slow the progression of CAD and reduce the risk of complications.

In addition to medication, dietary changes and increased physical activity may also help.

A 2019 study looked at the potential benefits of “intensive lifestyle modification,” which included following the DASH diet and increasing physical activity. The results suggest that these changes, when combined with traditional treatment, may help to slow the progression of CAD and reduce plaque in the arteries more than traditional treatment alone.

On its own, exercise has a role in preventing CAD from developing, as well as preventing future cardiac events in people with a diagnosis of CAD. While studies have shown conflicting results on whether exercise directly leads to plaque regression, physical activity appears to have beneficial effects on the coronary arteries.

Genetics and CAD

Having a family history of heart disease — particularly if a family member was diagnosed before or by the age of 50 — may also increase your risk of developing CAD.

While you can’t change your genes, you can make sure you disclose your family health history to your doctor. They can then help make sure that you get the proper testing done to help detect risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol.

If you already have CAD and have a family history of heart disease, talk with your care team about additional steps you can take to manage the condition and reduce your risk of complications.

Was this helpful?

Diet is critical in helping to prevent heart disease, as well as to help manage CAD. Some researchers advocate for a plant-based diet, arguing that the typical western diet of meat, dairy, and oils, is a major contribution to CAD development.

Swapping animal-based products for plant-based versions can help, but this isn’t the only dietary intervention that may help reverse heart disease. Other dietary changes recommended by the American Heart Association include:

Along with dietary changes, a doctor may recommend certain lifestyle choices you can help incorporate into your daily routine to help reduce CAD progression. These may include:

Diet and lifestyle changes are crucial components of preventing further damage to your heart from CAD. However, it’s equally important to talk with a doctor about possible medical interventions. These may include medications, surgery, or both.

Medications for CAD

Medications for CAD help to slow the progression of the disease while also reducing your risk of complications.

Depending on your medical history and overall health, your care team might prescribe:

  • cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, PCSK inhibitors, or ezetimibe (Zetia)
  • aspirin to help reduce blood clots
  • beta blockers to help reduce rapid heart rate and decrease angina
  • calcium channel blockers to reduce blood pressure and angina
  • nitrates to help dilate your blood vessels and reduce angina

When discussing medication, be sure to let your care team know about any other over-the-counter or prescription medications you take, including supplements and vitamins. This can help to prevent potential drug interactions.

Surgery for CAD

In the case of significant plaque buildup in your coronary arteries, your healthcare professional might recommend revascularization. This is a procedure that can help to restore blood flow to blocked arteries. It’s usually done through coronary angioplasty or heart bypass surgery.

In severe cases involving heart failure, they may recommend a heart transplant.

Living with coronary heart disease

You’re not alone; thousands of people around the world are living with coronary heart disease. You may find that becoming involved in the community not only makes your diet and exercise goals easier to follow but can also help your mental health.

Talk with your doctor or cardiovascular team about local resources, or check out any of these websites:

Was this helpful?

CAD is a common heart disease that involves the buildup of plaque in your arteries, making it more difficult for your heart to function. This can also increase your risk of a heart attack.

While there’s no way to completely reverse the condition, medication and lifestyle changes can significantly slow down the progression of the disease and reduce your risk of complications.

If you have concerns about your current heart health treatment and management plan, talk with a doctor about ways you can help reduce your risk of further heart disease progression. Seek emergency medical care if you’re experiencing chest pain or other possible signs of a heart attack.