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Heart disease Overview > conditions and diseases >

Coronary Artery Disease 101

By Caralee Adams

Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. That's why it's so important to learn how to spot and prevent it. Here's what you need to know to improve your lifestyle and fend off the disease.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged with fatty material, narrowing and hardening the arteries and reducing blood flow to the heart. This reduction in blood flow can damage the heart muscle. Eventually, it can make you feel out of breath, trigger chest pain, or change the rhythm of your heart. Total blockage of a coronary artery can cause a heart attack.

Symptoms of CAD
CAD often develops over decades. It’s possible to have the disease and not have any symptoms initially. But as your arteries become filled with more plaque, the heart may struggle to do its job.

Symptoms of CAD can include:

  • Chest pain. When you are working out or stressed, you may feel tightness or squeezing in your chest—under your breastbone—like someone is stepping on it. Or, even if you aren’t exercising, you may feel a sharp, fleeting pain in your chest, abdomen, back, or arm. This atypical chest pain is more common in women.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Heart attack. Initial signs of an attack are usually a crushing pain in your chest, pain in your shoulder or arm, and shortness of breath. Women tend to experience additional warning signs of nausea or pain in the back and jaw.
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