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Heart Surgery Patient Guide

Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

A person with one or more blocked arteries may feel pain and periodic discomfort in the chest, radiating to the neck and/or arms (usually on the left side). Symptoms can be triggered by physical exertion, eating, changes in temperature, extreme emotion or may be present even at rest. The symptoms may last 3 to 5 minutes until the cause is relieved; otherwise symptoms may last longer. If this continues, it can starve the heart muscle cells of oxygen and eventually lead to a heart attack.

Coronary artery disease: animation of plaque formation.

What are the risk factors that contribute to CAD?

Several factors are known to contribute to the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. It is often the combination of several of these risk factors, rather than a single factor that contributes to the development of CAD. Some of the risk factors such as gender, age, and heredity can only be noted--they cannot be changed. Other factors, however, can be controlled, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Lack of proper exercise
  • Body weight
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Poor Diet

How prevalent is CAD?

Coronary artery disease is a huge health problem in the United States. According to the most recent figures from the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the single leading cause of death in America today.

More than 12 million people alive today have a history of heart attack, angina pectoris (chest pain) or both. An estimated 1.1 million Americans will have a new or recurrent coronary attack this year--one third of these patients will die.

CAD patients are usually men over age 65. Historically, coronary artery disease has been considered a man's disease, but it is also the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Health, African-American women in particular are 24% more likely to die of coronary artery disease than their Caucasian-American counterparts.

Older women also have significantly higher rates of coronary artery disease than younger women. On average, women develop coronary artery disease fifteen years later than men and 39% of women die from the disease as compared to 31% of men.

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