February 29, 2024

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Blog Graphic for Coronary Artery Disease Blog

Cardiovascular disease is the number-one cause of death among Americans. Included under this umbrella is a condition called coronary artery disease. Dr. Raaid Museitif, cardiologist at Fort HealthCare, shares important information about this variety of heart disease.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

The heart’s main function is to pump blood throughout the entire body. However, the heart needs blood too—which is delivered through the coronary arteries. If an artery becomes blocked, it restricts blood flow and thus oxygen.

“What happens is, even though the heart is pumping, it’s not getting blood to a certain area of the muscle because it’s blocked. It keeps beating, and it kills itself. That’s what we call a heart attack,” explains Dr. Museitif. “Everyone has watched shows or know what that looks like. You’re grabbing your chest, you can’t breathe, you’re sweaty, maybe you pass out. There are a lot of different symptoms, but that’s what usually happens.”

Additional symptoms may include a tightness sensation in the chest, radiating pain down the left arm, indigestion or upset stomach, shortness of breath, or jaw/tooth pain.

Smoking is the number-one risk factor for developing coronary artery disease, alongside high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, inactivity, heavy drinking, and obesity. If a person has more than one of these risk factors, their chance of being affected by coronary artery diseases increases exponentially.

“That’s why we treat you with cholesterol medicines. It’s why we tell our patients to stop smoking, to prevent inflammation. Exercise gets rid of inflammation. Treating your blood pressure helps prevent the blood vessels from getting damaged,” notes Dr. Museitif.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In some cases, coronary artery disease develops undetected, which is why it’s important to attend regular checkups with one’s primary care provider. They might pick up on risk factors and potential symptoms. If a person suspects something is “off,” Dr. Museitif urges them to make sure their provider is actually listening. He shares an instance of a patient who felt she wasn’t being heard—and why it was a good thing she reached out for a second opinion.

“We did tests and that person ended up having bypass surgery. The last time I saw her, she thanked us. She said, ‘You listened to me when nobody else would listen.’ I would tell you the first thing to do is to make sure your provider listens to you. If you have that check engine light in your head that says you have a problem, listen to yourself first.”

Different tests exist to diagnose a cardiac problem, such as EKG and CAT scan. If a blockage is detected, the next steps are to determine how to address it. Dr. Museitif explains blockages less than 70% are typically treated with medication first—alongside addressing modifiable risk factors such as obesity.

If blockages are more than 70%, there are different surgical procedures cardiologists employ. For example, putting in a stent to safely open up the blockage. A more invasive approach is bypass surgery. Thankfully, the advancements in stent procedures have reduced the number of bypasses over time.

“Bypass surgery, depending on your anatomy, is really implemented when stenting doesn’t work. So, first thing is addressing your cardiac risk factors, trying medical therapy, then considering stenting. If that doesn’t work, we progress to bypass—unless you have certain types of risks and a certain anatomy and you need bypass right away, but that’s less common.”