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Coronary Artery Disease

In coronary artery disease (CAD), a substance in the blood called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries which supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart.

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substance found in the blood. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. It also makes it more likely that blood clots will form in your arteries. Blood clots can partially or completely block blood flow.

When your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked, oxygen-rich blood cannot reach your heart. This can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.

Risk Factors

Many factors raise the risk of developing CAD. The more risk factors you have, the greater chance you have of developing CAD.

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels

This includes high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

High blood pressure

Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or higher than140/90 mmHg over a period of time.


Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels and raise cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Smoking also doesn't allow enough oxygen to reach the body's tissues.

Insulin resistance

This condition occurs when the body can't use its own insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it's used.


This is a disease in which the body's blood sugar level is high because the body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use its insulin properly.

Overweight or obesity

Adults with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight. While those with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese. 

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors linked to overweight and obesity that raise your chance for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.

Lack of physical activity

Lack of activity can worsen other risk factors for CAD.


As you get older, your risk for CAD increases. Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to build in your arteries as you age. By the time you're middle-aged or older, enough plaque has built up to cause signs or symptoms. In men, the risk for CAD increases after age 45. In women, the risk for CAD risk increases after age 55.

Family history of early heart disease

Your risk increases if your father or a brother younger than 55 was diagnosed with CAD or if your mother or a sister younger than 65 was diagnosed with CAD.

What Can You Do?

Taking action to control your risk factors can help prevent or delay the onset of CAD. Your chance of developing CAD goes up with the number of risk factors you have.


Follow a heart healthy eating plan to prevent or reduce high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and to maintain a healthy weight.


Increase your physical activity. Check with your health care provider first to find out how much and what kinds of activity are safe for you.

Know your family history of health problems related to CAD

If you or someone in your family has CAD, be sure to tell your health care provider. Also, let your health care provider know if you smoke.

Self Management

  • Making lifestyle changes can often help prevent or treat CAD. For some people, these changes may be the only treatment needed.
  • Lose weight
  • Learn to cope with and reduce stress

Tobacco Cessation

The use of tobacco in any form is a great health concern. Even if you don't smoke, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you use tobacco products, prepare yourself to quit as soon as possible.

  • Set a date to stop and mark it on your calendar. Twenty-four hours before the start date make everyone aware of your goal to stop.
  • Remove the smell of tobacco by cleaning your house and car. Remember to get rid of lighters, ashtrays and matches.
  • You can use over-the-counter aids such as nicotine patches and gum. Contact your health insurance provider to see if Nicotine replacement therapy is a covered service.
  • Know what your triggers are that make you want to use tobacco products and be prepared with chewing gum, celery or carrot sticks.
  • Kentucky has a free Quit Now program that helps you quit using tobacco products. You can contant the Quit Now program at (800) 784-8669.


Last Updated 11/21/2011