There is a lot you can do to prevent coronary artery disease, which causes narrowing of the arteries and increases the risk of heart attack. It's the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Eating healthy, exercising, keeping your weight down, controlling your blood pressure and quitting smoking are all essential to preventing this condition.
If you do have risk factors—and they include family history—you should see a good cardiologist. Yale Medicine provides a full spectrum of clinical cardiovascular care, and our specialists have extensive experience with coronary artery disease. If you need surgery, we have renowned surgeons and the most advanced treatments available.
What causes coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease is caused by the gradual buildup of cholesterol or plaque, which makes the arteries stiffen and narrow. The result is reduced blood flow to the heart.
Multiple causes of coronary artery disease include:
- Genetics: Having a family history of heart disease
- Lifestyle: Eating unhealthy, high-fat foods and being sedentary
- Medical conditions: Including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure
Many people with heart disease have more than one of those risk factors.
People with coronary artery disease are at higher risk for a heart attack and other heart conditions that can be debilitating or even fatal. This leads to symptoms such as cardiac angina, the clinical term for shortness of breath and chest pain.
A sudden heart attack may be caused by a blood clot that forms on the surface of the plaque.
What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
In its early stages, coronary artery disease may have no symptoms, though some people experience fatigue, chest pain or shortness of breath.
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
Doctors screen for heart disease during routine exams, asking questions about your personal and family history, taking blood samples to test cholesterol levels, and measuring your weight and blood pressure.
If a doctor has a reason to suspect you have heart disease, he or she may order additional tests. These can include an electrocardiogram, which measures electrical activity in the heart, or a stress test, which measures how well the heart works when stressed by physical activity.
How is coronary artery disease treated?
Most people with coronary artery disease can be helped by one or several of three types of treatment. These are:
- Medication: Prescription drugs can counter the effects of heart disease, helping to keep risk factors including hypertension and cholesterol under control.
- Coronary stent: This is also called a percutaneous coronary intervention. A catheter is sent to the site of the blockage to open up the artery to restore blood flow.
- Heart surgery: A coronary artery bypass graft can reroute blood flow around a blocked artery.
Each of these treatments has advantages and disadvantages for patients. Surgery is generally reserved for patients who do not improve with the help of medication or stents or who can’t be effectively treated with those less-invasive methods.
What surgical procedures does Yale Medicine offer for the treatment of coronary artery disease?
Yale Medicine offers the full array of modern surgical treatments for all types of coronary artery disease. These include:
- Heart transplants
- Implantation of artificial hearts (called left ventricular assist devices, or LVAD)
- Mitral valve replacement and repair, for diseased heart valves
- Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (called TAVR), an innovative treatment for patients with heart disease who are not strong enough for other types of heart surgery
What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to the treatment of coronary artery disease unique?
Yale Medicine offers world-class expertise in treating all types of coronary artery disease with excellent outcomes.
Treatment planning for every high-risk patient with heart disease includes a formal collaborative discussion to evaluate all treatment options without any bias toward one specialty. This ensures that every patient benefits from input from specialists from several disciplines—a particular advantage for patients with complex heart disease.
Patients with heart disease who come to Yale Medicine for treatment can count on receiving cutting-edge therapies, using the latest, most innovative technologies and instrumentation.
Our cardiac surgeons’ clinical and basic research brings important advantages to patients, who have access to some of the newest technologies for the surgical treatment of heart disease.