Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as coronary heart disease, is the most common type of heart disease. It’s also the number one cause of death in the United States.

CAD occurs when fatty deposits or plaque build up in the walls of your blood vessels or arteries. This buildup can cause inflammation, reduce blood flow to your heart, and cause symptoms of heart attack, such as weakness, nausea, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

CAD can also lead to heart attacks, but treatments are available that can prevent this from happening. Treatment can reduce the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, which can prevent reduced blood flow.

Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:

  • a family history of heart disease
  • tobacco use
  • unhealthy eating habits
  • lack of physical activity
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

The right treatment can improve the quality of your life and reduce the likelihood of serious life threatening complications.

Here’s what you need to know about treating CAD.

Treatment for CAD aims to prevent plaque buildup, decrease inflammation, and improve blood flow and the overall health of your heart and blood vessels. Your doctor can treat any risk factors you have, as well as help reduce your risk of complications.

This includes prescribing medications to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and restore blood flow.


Aspirin works by reducing your risk of blood clots. Blood clots in your coronary arteries can lead to a life threatening heart attack.

This medication can also help prevent heart attacks if you’ve already experienced one. However, you shouldn’t take aspirin if you have a bleeding disorder or if your doctor already prescribed a different blood thinner.

Cholesterol-modifying medications

These medications reduce levels of bad cholesterol and inflammation. They include drugs like statins. Improving your cholesterol level can prevent plaque buildup, partially reverse current plaque deposition, and reduce inflammation in your arteries.


These medications lower the heart rate. As a result, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard and gets to “rest” more. This lowers the oxygen demand of your heart. These medications are also effective in the treatment of arrhythmias.

Calcium channel blockers

Sometimes, a beta-blocker alone isn’t enough to reduce your blood pressure. If this is the case, your doctor may prescribe a calcium channel blocker in conjunction with other medications. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure also protects against the risk of stroke or heart attack.

Other medications

In addition to calcium channel blockers, your doctor may prescribe other medications along with a beta-blocker to reduce chest pain or angina. Examples include ranolazine (Ranexa) or nitroglycerin (Rectiv).

Other types of medication to lower blood pressure include angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers or diuretics.

Along with medication, lifestyle changes can improve CAD, slowing the progression of this disease and improving your overall health.

Give up smoking

Smoking constricts blood vessels and damages arteries. It can also increase blood pressure and your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Use nicotine replacement therapy to help curb cravings, or ask your doctor about medications to help you quit.

Stay physically active

Staying physically active can help you maintain a healthy body weight. In addition, it can contribute to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, or about 30 minutes for 5 days a week. Start slow with walking or light aerobics, and gradually increase intensity as your body adjusts. Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet can also improve symptoms of CAD. Eat foods that promote heart health. This includes:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • lean proteins
  • fish
  • whole-wheat grains
  • healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados

Avoid foods that have a negative effect on your cholesterol or sodium levels. These include high-sodium foods, junk foods, and fatty foods. Pay attention to food labels and prepare foods using salt alternatives like herbs and salt-free seasonings.

Learn how to manage stress

Reducing your stress levels also keeps your blood pressure within a healthy range. Know your limitations and don’t be afraid to say no.

It also helps to pace yourself, get plenty of sleep, and take advantage of stress relief techniques. Examples include exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga.

Take care of other health conditions

You can also improve CAD by properly managing other health conditions. For instance, if you have diabetes, maintain a healthy blood sugar level and take any prescribed medications as directed.

A combination of medications and lifestyle changes may reduce your cholesterol level and prevent further blockages. This can improve blood flow to your heart and reduce your risk of complications.

But sometimes, medication and lifestyle changes alone don’t improve blocked arteries. In this case, your doctor may suggest surgery to restore blood flow.

You may be a candidate for a percutaneous coronary intervention. This procedure involves opening up the narrow part of an artery and then placing a stent in the artery to keep it open. As a result, this increases blood flow through the artery.

Or, you may need a coronary artery bypass to bypass the blockage. This procedure is an open heart surgery. Your doctor will begin by removing a healthy artery or vein from another part of your body. Then, they will connect this artery in a manner that allows blood to flow around a blockage.

Doctors usually only suggest surgery in severe cases of CAD.

CAD is a serious, potentially life threatening condition. But medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery are effective strategies to restore blood flow. These treatments can also protect against major complications like heart disease, sudden cardiac arrest, and stroke.