The term “heart disease,” also known as cardiovascular
disease, covers a lot of ground. It’s used for a variety of
problems with the circulatory system, from high blood
pressure to abnormal heart rhythms. Most of the time, though,
when people speak of heart disease what they really mean is
coronary artery disease—a narrowing of the coronary
No wider than a strand of spaghetti, each coronary
artery deliver bloods to hard-working heart muscle cells.
The cause of coronary artery disease is almost always
atherosclerotic plaque—gooey cholesterol-filled deposits that
form inside artery walls.
Plaque is usually the result of an
unhealthy diet, too little exercise, high cholesterol, high blood
pressure, smoking, and other “insults” that damage the lining
of artery walls.
When a coronary artery becomes clogged with plaque, it can’t
always deliver enough blood to the heart muscle cells it is
supposed to supply. Sometimes this doesn’t cause any
noticeable symptoms. Sometimes it causes angina — chest
pain that occurs with physical exertion or stress.
Coronary artery disease can also be the root cause of a heart attack, or
lead to the chronic condition known as heart failure.
Coronary artery disease affects millions. Once limited almost
entirely to older people, it is now beginning to appear in
younger folks, a change driven by the rising tides of obesity
and type 2 diabetes.
Coronary artery disease isn’t an inevitable part of growing
older. A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a healthy diet,
and not smoking goes a long way to preventing it, especially
when started at a young age. Lifestyle changes and
medications can also reverse coronary artery disease, or at
least prevent it from getting worse