Good heart health is essential, and as you get older, it's particularly important to be aware of how to maintain it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, and knowing what causes it and how to manage it are crucial to your long-term health.1
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a buildup of cholesterol-containing deposits called plaque in the blood vessels that supply the heart. This buildup can occur over a period of years, and it causes your arteries to narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow to your heart. That can lead to symptoms like chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and even heart attack.
Coronary artery disease is often linked to underlying causes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking. Things like age, family history, weight, stress levels and how physically active you are can also influence the development of CAD.
Treating and managing coronary artery disease begins with making lifestyle changes that promote better heart health. For example, your doctor might recommend that you quit smoking if you're a smoker, or lose weight if you're overweight. They may also suggest making exercise a regular part of your routine and changing your diet to include more heart-healthy foods such as whole grains, leafy greens and fresh vegetables, and less sugar and red meat.
Reducing stress levels is also an important lifestyle change to consider if you've been diagnosed with CAD. Chronic stress could raise your blood pressure, which could worsen your coronary artery disease symptoms.2 Meditation, yoga or developing a relaxing hobby are all ways to counter stress.
In some cases, lifestyle changes may not be enough to keep coronary artery disease symptoms at bay. Your doctor may prescribe medications or medical procedures, depending on your overall health and the severity of your symptoms.
A variety of medications can be used to manage your condition. Cholesterol medications can help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood, which cause plaque buildup. Aspirin may be prescribed to reduce the risk of blood clots or heart attack. Beta blockers can be used to manage blood pressure levels, and nitroglycerin can help with controlling chest pain.
In extreme scenarios, your doctor may recommend an angioplasty to place a stent in your heart to allow for increased blood flow, or coronary bypass surgery to reroute blood flow around a blocked artery. Talking with your doctor about the seriousness of your coronary artery disease, which lifestyle changes could benefit you the most and whether more advanced medical care is necessary can help you create a treatment plan that's specific to your needs.