- Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is a condition caused when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, which are the major blood vessels that supply the oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
- Coronary heart disease is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, starving the heart of what it needs to work properly and often resulting in chest discomfort (angina) or a heart attack.
- Coronary heart disease often develops over decades, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent or treat the disease.
The coronary arteries are shaped like hollow tubes through which blood can flow. The buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits, called plaques, on the inner walls of the arteries causes them to narrow, reducing blood flow to the heart. This condition is called atherosclerosis, which may begin as early as childhood.
Plaque also makes the formation of blood clots more likely. An area of plaque can rupture (break open) and the body’s repair system in turn creates a clot to heal the wound. The clot, however, can become large enough to block the flow of blood to the portion of heart muscle fed by the artery, causing a heart attack.
If atherosclerosis occurs in the blood vessels leading to the brain, resulting in carotid artery disease, it can cause a stroke.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs if plaque builds up in the major arteries that supply blood to your legs, arms, or kidneys.