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Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Angina
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What is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Angina?

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. This narrowing is a result of atherosclerosis —the buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the arteries. When the arteries narrow, blood flow is reduced. The reduced blood flow causes the heart muscle to receive less oxygen than it needs to function properly. This is termed ischemia. When ischemia occurs patients typically develop angina or chest pain originating from the heart. If the blood flow is completely cut off, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) will occur, and the heart muscle will be permanently damaged.

Blocked Coronary Artery
Blocked Coronary Artery
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

CAD is the most common life-threatening disease in the United States. According to the American...

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop CAD or angina with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing CAD or angina . If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors may increase the risk of atherosclerosis , which can lead to CAD. These include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking , which damages both blood vessels and lungs
  • A diet high in saturated fat, transfat, cholesterol, and/or calories—A study found that women who regularly drink beverages with sugar may be at an increased risk of developing...

Angina: Most Common Areas of Pain
Angina: Most Common Areas of Pain
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Signs and symptoms of CAD , angina , and heart attack include:

  • Chest pain (angina)—This may feel like heaviness, burning, choking, tightness, pressure, or squeezing, usually behind the breastbone, but sometimes starting or radiating into the arms, left shoulder, neck, back, teeth, or jaw.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath particularly with physical exertion
  • Sweating

The more signs and symptoms you have and the longer an episode of chest pain lasts (more than 15 minutes), the more likely it is that you are experiencing a heart attack, rather than an episode of angina. In this situation, seek medical care immediately.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and do a complete physical exam. To diagnose CAD or angina , the following may be helpful:


The diagnosis of angina is based mainly on your description of symptoms and precipitating factors. Other medical conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes , increase the risk of CAD.

Physical Examination

Since high cholesterol is a risk factor for CAD, doctors will look for evidence of elevated cholesterol, such as a collection of fatty tissue near the eyes. Your doctor will also listen for extra sounds in the heart, known as murmurs or gallops, which may suggest heart disease.

Blood Tests

Increased levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides,...

You can reduce your risk of angina and CAD by making certain lifestyle changes. These include:

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight puts a strain on the heart muscle, which eventually can lead to angina and CAD. If you are overweight or obese , adopt a sensible eating plan and exercise regularly to lose weight gradually, and maintain your weight at the desired level.

Quit Smoking

Smoking damages your blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and forces your heart to work harder. Discuss with your doctor the best way to help you quit smoking .

Limit Alcohol Intake

Alcohol should be limited to no more than 1 to 2 ounces a day. In this quantity, alcohol may have a beneficial effect on raising your good cholesterol...

American Heart Association


7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231


1-800-AHA-USA-1 (1-800-242-8721)

Internet Address:

Description of services provided:

The American Heart Association provides general information about heart disease, including educational information, news, research, health programs, and dietary information.

Centers for Disease Control


1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

This site provides educational and statistical information about cardiovascular health.

National Heart, Lung and Blood...

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