Coronary artery disease (called CAD for short) is the leading cause of death in men and women.
It happens when your coronary arteries—which act like fuel lines to supply blood to the heart—become damaged or diseased. The main culprit? A buildup of fat and cholesterol in the blood that sticks to the inner walls of the arteries (this is also called atherosclerosis).
As this happens, the arteries can narrow or become blocked. Keep in mind, CAD typically develops over decades, so many people don't even know they have it until it starts causing problems.
When you have CAD, your heart muscle may not be able to get the blood and oxygen it needs. This can result in chest pain (angina) or heart attack. For many people, this may be the first sign they have CAD. CAD is often to blame for heart failure and arrhythmias, too.
Although you don't have control over all of your risk factors for CAD—gender, age and family history—there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
You are more likely to develop CAD and other heart problems if you are overweight; smoke; have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol; or don't exercise regularly. Luckily, heart-healthy choices can make a big difference.
The sooner you can make positive changes to support your heart health, the better. The goal is to reduce your risk of heart problems down the line. Use this condition center to learn more about coronary artery disease.