Coronary artery disease is another term used for atherosclerotic heart disease, a condition caused by a narrowing, hardening and furring of the walls of the coronary arteries.
The coronary arteries supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscles of the heart called the myocardium. Coronary artery disease is also often called coronary heart disease (CHD). However, CHD actually has several causes, one of which is coronary artery disease.
Two conditions called arteriosclerosis and atheromatosis cause a stiffening and narrowing of the arteries and both of these occur in atherosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is a generalized thickening and stiffening of the arterial wall and is related to high blood pressure or hypertension. Aretriosclerosis can affect any of the main arteries in the peripheral organs, kidneys, limbs, brain or heart.
Atheromatosis is an inflammatory arterial change that leads to dysfunction of the endothelial walls and excessive deposition of lipids or fats in these walls. These deposits are called plaques. Atheromatosis and arteriosclerosis often coexist and lead to arterial fibrosis or atherosclerosis, the basic pathology of coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease kills millions worldwide each year. The symptoms of coronary artery disease are usually not evident initially. As the disease progresses, there is an increased risk of a heart attack or myocardial infarction. The atheromatous plaques may take years or decades before they finally obstruct the coronary arteries. When these arteries do become obstructed, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles of the heart is reduced, which can lead to angina and heart attack.
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of sudden death among men and women over the age of 20 years. Nearly half of the current U.S male population aged over 40 years is at risk of developing coronary artery disease in their lifetime and this is also applicable to one third of the female population aged over 40 years.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc