Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as coronary heart disease (CHD), occurs when the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle) gradually become narrowed or blocked by plaque (a combination of fatty material, calcium, scar tissue, and proteins) deposits. The plaque deposits decrease the space through which blood can flow, leading to poor blood flow. As platelets (disc-shaped particles in the blood that aid clotting) come to the area, blood clots form around the plaque, causing the artery to narrow even further. Sometimes, the blood clot breaks apart, and blood supply is restored. In other cases, the blood clot (coronary thrombus) may totally block the blood supply to the heart muscle (coronary occlusion). This lack of blood flow (called ischemia) can "starve" some of the heart muscle and lead to chest pain (angina). A heart attack (myocardial infarction) results when blood flow is completely blocked, usually by a blood clot forming over a plaque that has ruptured. Unhealthy habits, such as a diet high in cholesterol and other fats, smoking, and lack of exercise accelerate the deposit of fat and calcium within the inner lining of coronary arteries.
CAD is the most common form of heart disease and the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States. CAD affects about 14 million men and women in the United States, and claims more lives than the other seven leading causes of death combined.
Atherosclerosis: Coronary artery disease is a type of atherosclerosis in which plaque builds up inside the arteries that carry blood to the heart. As the artery walls thicken, the passageway for blood narrows. Sometimes platelets gather at the narrow area and form a clot that decreases or prevents blood flow to the region of the heart supplied by the artery. Atherosclerosis can also lead to stroke (lack of oxygen) in the brain.
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