What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease is a type of heart disease affecting the major blood vessels that supply the heart. It usually results from cholesterol deposits (plaques) in the arteries and can cause an inadequate supply of blood to the heart muscle.
The condition may also be known as ‘coronary heart disease’, ‘ischaemic heart disease’, or simply ‘heart disease’. Although its mortality rates have steadily declined since 2011, it remains prevalent and accounted for over 10% of all Australian deaths in 2020.
Causes & risks
Coronary artery disease is usually caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries. This causes the arteries to become hard and narrow, reducing oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. The resulting lack of oxygen can weaken the heart muscle and lead to chest pain, tissue death, or even heart attack.
Men over age 45 and post-menopausal women are generally considered to be at the highest risk of heart disease. Being overweight, physically inactive, drinking excessively, and smoking can also contribute to its development.
Prof. Dion Stub is a leading cardiologist who diagnoses and treats coronary artery disease from locations throughout Melbourne.
- Chest pain & discomfort
- Squeezing or burning sensations
- Shortness of breath
Note that these symptoms often do not display until significant plaque build-up has occurred, meaning the condition may have no symptoms in its early stages. Some symptoms may also be mistaken for heartburn.
What are the risks involved?
Coronary artery disease results in plaque build-ups. These can cause blood clots which may lead to a heart attack or heart failure. Clots may also move into the lungs or brain, resulting in a pulmonary embolism or stroke.
As symptoms often do not display until significant build-up has developed, many Australians don’t know they have a problem, until they have a heart attack. This makes coronary artery disease even more dangerous and emphasises the need for regular check-ups if you are at risk.
Your cardiologist will consider your symptoms, family history, and overall health when diagnosing coronary artery disease. If Prof. Dion Stub suspects it, some of the following tests may be organised to help confirm a diagnosis:
- Blood tests – these can help assess the levels of cholesterol, sugars, and some proteins in your blood to detect inflammation. They are typically performed as part of a regular check-up and may identify possible heart disease before other symptoms develop.
- ECG – this measures your heart’s electrical signals and records any abnormalities. It can help determine whether the heart’s rhythm is steady and regular to rule out other causes of symptoms.
- Cardiac MRI – this test creates images of the heart which can be used to detect damaged or diseased heart tissue. It can also identify blockages in the coronary arteries and supplement results from other imaging tests.
- Coronary angiogram – x-ray dye is added directly to the coronary arteries using a catheter, allowing the cardiologist to gather clear images of your blood vessels and check for blockages. It is generally used if other tests show that you may have heart disease.
While coronary artery disease is dangerous, it is not always immediately life-threatening and can often be managed through non-invasive support. Prof Dion Stub will carefully assess your condition and help you thoroughly understand all available options before recommending a course of treatment.
Treatment options may include:
Medications – these are often employed with the goal of managing cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Prof Dion Stub may prescribe anticoagulants, beta-blockers, or other suitable medications to benefit your heart health.
Lifestyle changes – Prof Dion Stub can recommend and help you make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of complications. These may include weight loss, quitting smoking, stress reduction, and adjusting to a heart-healthy diet. You may be referred to a dietician or other allied health specialist to assist.
Bypass surgery – a heart surgeon grafts a new section of blood vessel to a coronary artery just above and below the site of the blockage, creating a new path for blood to flow through and reach the heart again. Bypass surgery is sometimes performed as an emergency treatment.
Minimally invasive heart procedures – coronary angioplasty and stenting may be used to widen a blocked blood vessel and allow blood to pass through again. Prof. Dion Stub provides these procedures from hospitals throughout Melbourne.
Consult A Cardiologist
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More information on coronary artery disease
- St Vincent’s Hospital Heart Health – coronary artery disease
- The Heart Foundation – coronary artery disease
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – coronary heart disease
- Medtronic on coronary artery disease
- Medtronic on coronary artery disease treatment
 Abs.gov, 2021
 Cdc.gov, 2021