Coronary artery disease

disease characterized by plaque building up in the arteries of the heart

Coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease (CHD), is a heart disease. ("Coronary" means "the blood vessels of the heart".) Coronary heart disease causes plaque to build up inside the coronary arteries. This causes the coronary arteries to become narrower and pressure to build, forcing the heart to work harder, as well as the risk of heart attacks or blockage of the vessels.

Coronary artery disease
Other namesAtherosclerotic heart disease,[1] atherosclerotic vascular disease,[2] coronary heart disease[3]
Illustration depicting atherosclerosis in a coronary artery
Medical specialtyCardiology, cardiac surgery
SymptomsChest pain, shortness of breath
ComplicationsHeart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attack, cardiogenic shock, cardiac arrest
CausesAtherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart
Risk factorsHigh blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood cholesterol
Diagnostic methodElectrocardiogram, cardiac stress test, coronary computed tomographic angiography, coronary angiogram
PreventionHealthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking
TreatmentPercutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG)
MedicationAspirin, beta blockers, nitroglycerin, statins
Frequency110 million (2015)
Deaths8.9 million (2015)
Drawing of how the coronary arteries get clogged up with plaque

The heart pumps blood full of oxygen and nutrients through the arteries, working with the lungs to get it to different parts of the body. Blood that is pumped back to the heart through veins contains carbon dioxide taken out of cells to be removed from the body. The coronary arteries are very important. They supply blood to the heart muscle. So when the coronary arteries become narrower, less blood gets to the heart muscle.



Most people with coronary artery disease feel healthy for years before they start experiencing symptoms. The most common symptom is a heart attack. If it is not treated, some of the plaques in the coronary arteries can break away and block the blood flow to the heart. Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of sudden death. It is also the most common cause of death in people over 65 years old. Men are 10 times more likely to get coronary artery disease than women.



Atherosclerosis is a form of heart disease. It causes fatty materials (like cholesterol) to build up in the arteries, forming harder materials called plaques. This causes the arteries to become narrower. It also makes it more difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. This can cause blood clots to form, blocking blood from traveling through the arteries. Small pieces of plaque can also break off and block smaller blood vessels.

If an artery becomes blocked completely, it causes serious problems. All cells, tissues, and organs in the body need oxygen and nutrients (carried by blood) to survive. If cells or tissues are not supplied with enough blood, they die. (This is called necrosis.) When this happens in the coronary arteries, a section of the heart dies. This can cause a myocardial infarction (a heart attack) to happen.



People can do many different things to keep themselves from getting coronary artery disease:

  • They can change their diet. For example, they can eat fewer fatty foods, and take in as few saturated fats and avoiding trans fats as possible.
  • They can eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.
  • They can avoid drinking alcohol, and can take in less salt.
  • They can exercise regularly.
  • They can avoid becoming overweight or obese by doing things to control their weight.


  1. "Coronary heart disease – causes, symptoms, prevention". Southern Cross Healthcare Group. Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  2. Faxon DP, Creager MA, Smith SC, Pasternak RC, Olin JW, Bettmann MA, et al. (June 2004). "Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease Conference: Executive summary: Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease Conference proceeding for healthcare professionals from a special writing group of the American Heart Association". Circulation. 109 (21): 2595–604. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.0000128517.52533.DB. PMID 15173041.
  3. MedlinePlus Encyclopedia Coronary heart disease