Coronary artery disease (also known as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease) is a term that is applied to a broad spectrum of problems caused by partial or complete blockage of one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself. Coronary artery disease constitutes more than 76 percent of the heart disease seen in the United States. It is the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for more than 300,000 deaths annually.
Coronary artery disease is characterized by the build-up of cholesterol inside the arteries supplying blood flow to the heart. Eventually, these deposits or plaques inside the artery wall will become hard and will impair blood flow through the artery. The obstruction may be further increased by the formation of clots around the plaque. The tissue supplied by the affected artery may suffer a lack of oxygen due to inadequate blood flow. If the period of inadequate blood flow is brief, it may cause chest pain known as angina. If the blood flow is reduced or stopped for longer periods of time, the heart tissue may die. This is known as a myocardial infarction or heart attack.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of coronary artery disease. Age, gender, and family history are factors that cannot be controlled. Factors that can be controlled include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, diet and the amount of exercise. The number and severity of uncontrolled risk factors in your life will determine your likelihood of developing coronary artery disease.