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Are we winning the battle with heart disease? Dr. David L. Brown provides insights on the progress made so far and the challenges that remain.
Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is a build-up of fat and cholesterol in the arteries that supply blood to your heart. These deposits, which are called plaques, grow slowly over decades and can sometimes become hardened with fibrous tissue and calcium. As the plaques grow, in a disease process called atherosclerosis, portions of the artery become clogged and narrowed. If an artery is severely obstructed, it reduces blood flow to the heart and can cause chest pain or even a heart attack.
But it's not just large plaques that spell trouble. Even moderate-sized plaques can be dangerous, if they become inflamed. Plaques that are inflamed are often soft, filled with liquid fat and covered with a fragile cap. These types of plaques can rupture and suddenly reduce blood flow to the heart, causing painful and frightening symptoms. When an inflamed plaque ruptures, the top of the plaque partially obstructs blood flow, while the liquid fat in the plaque causes blood to clot at the site of injury. A blood clot that completely blocks the artery can result in a heart attack, but smaller clots can seriously impair blood flow and cause chest pain (angina), as the heart is deprived of the oxygen-rich blood it needs.
Many people with coronary artery disease also have plaque build-up in other arteries of the body. For example –
- Disease in the arteries that supply blood to the brain can cause a stroke.
If your doctor has told you that you have coronary artery disease, you know it's serious, but you should also realize that you're not alone. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. In fact, over 16 million Americans have coronary artery disease.
It's true that heart disease is still the most common cause of death among both men and women, claiming the lives of more than a half million Americans each year. But it's also true that, today, more and more people with coronary artery disease are living long and active lives, thanks to remarkable advances in diagnosis and treatment.
There are many resources available to you for learning more about coronary artery disease, and an entire team of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare specialists who can help you to make healthy changes in your life.