Q: How does Coronary Artery Disease develop?
A: “First, let’s discuss what coronary artery disease is,” said Cardiologist Akram Kholoki, M.D., FACC. Dr. Kholoki explained that coronary artery disease (CAD) is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries as a result of a buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits called plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. “Coronary arteries start out smooth and elastic, but with age they narrow and become more rigid, restricting blood flow to the heart.”
“Think of your coronary arteries as hollow shaped tubes which allow the blood to flow freely through your body,” Dr. Kholoki said. “With age, plaque builds up in the arteries, inflaming the blood vessel walls and raising the risk of blood clots and heart attack. The plaque releases chemicals that make the inner walls of the blood vessel sticky, and blood cells start sticking to the inside of the vessel walls, which can create a clot that blocks the vessel.”
In discussing the symptoms of CAD, Dr. Kholoki shared that the most common symptom is chest pain (angina). “This is often described as a heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness, squeezing or painful feeling,” he said. Angina may also be felt in the left shoulder, the arms, the neck, the back or the jaw.
“If you have any of these symptoms,” expressed Dr. Kholoki, “you need to discuss them with your physician, because your condition may be serious. Your physician will perform a physical exam and review your medical history and risk factors for the disease.” He said diagnostic tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), exercise stress test, cardiac catheterization and other tests may also be ordered to better identify the problem.