Coronary Artery Disease Defined
Heart disease, commonly called coronary artery disease (CAD), is due to the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries. These deposits may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge throughout life. This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and can decrease or block blood flow to the heart.
Nearly 16 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Coronary arteries can become diseased for several reasons. One important cause is the build-up of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries that block the flow of blood to the heart muscle.
Plaque is composed mostly of cholesterol, a fatlike substance in the blood that accumulates to form the plaques that hinder the flow of blood. When these plaques significantly decrease blood flow to the heart muscle, you can experience chest pain, called angina pectoris.
If the artery becomes blocked, you could have a heart attack, called a myocardial infarction. Risk factors which contribute to this cholesterol build-up include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, high saturated fat diet, lack of exercise and genetic traits inherited from your parents.
Heart Valve Disease
Heart valves can form abnormally from birth. They also can receive damage from rheumatic fever and bacterial infection, as well as calcific degeneration due to aging. The two most common types of valve disease are: (1) Narrowing (called stenosis) which occurs when a valve does not open completely, causing blood to flow through a smaller opening; and (2) Leaking (called regurgitation) which results when a valve doesn’t close completely, allowing blood to flow backwards through the valve.