Heart disease (coronary artery disease) is caused by a buildup of cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, heredity, diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and obesity. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath. There are a variety of tests used to diagnose coronary artery disease. Treatment includes life-style changes, medications, procedures, or surgery.
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Heart disease refers to several conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Arrhythmias, heart valve disease, congenital heart defects, and inflammation of the heart or its lining (the pericardium) are all diseases that affect the heart. However, this article will focus on the most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as atherosclerotic heart disease (ASHD).
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of death in the United
States. Over a million people each year will have a heart attack and 25% will
die before they get to the hospital while or in the Emergency Department.
Prevention is the key to treatment of heart disease.
Diagnosis of heart disease is often made by careful history taken by a health care
Some individuals may have atypical symptoms, including almost none at all.
The testing strategy to confirm the diagnosis and plan appropriate
treatment needs to be individualized for each patient diagnosed with heart
Treatment of heart disease depends upon the severity of disease, and is often directed by the
symptoms experienced by the affected individual.
Introduction to heart disease
The heart is like any other muscle, requiring oxygen and nutrient-rich blood for it to function. The coronary arteries
that supply blood to the heart muscle spread across the surface of the heart, beginning at the base of the aorta and branching out to all areas of the heart muscle.
The coronary arteries are at risk for narrowing as cholesterol deposits,
called plaques, build up inside the artery. If the arteries narrow enough, blood
supply to the heart muscle may be compromised (slowed down), and this slowing of
blood flow to the heart causes pain, or angina.
A heart attack or myocardial infarction occurs when a plaque ruptures,
allowing a blood clot to form. This completely obstructs the artery, stopping
all blood flow to part of the heart muscle, and that portion of muscle dies.