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Coronary Artery Disease

If you have chest pain or shortness of breath, the cause could be coronary artery disease — a precursor to a heart attack. Your care is in expert hands at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center.

Our team of cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other heart specialists has decades of experience. People from all over the Midwest come to us because we can treat even the most complex cases of coronary artery disease.

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops when the heart arteries can no longer deliver enough blood to the heart muscle. Also called coronary heart disease, CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Risk Factors of Coronary Artery Disease

In CAD, the heart arteries can narrow and stiffen when cholesterol and other fatty substances build up inside them. The buildup (plaque) can happen in any artery, and the condition is called atherosclerosis. CAD is atherosclerosis in one or more heart arteries.

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing CAD. Risk factors that you can change or treat include:

  • excess weight or obesity
  • excessive alcohol use
  • high stress
  • lack of exercise
  • other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol
  • smoking
  • unhealthy diet

Risk factors that you cannot change include:

  • age, especially over age 65
  • family history of heart disease
  • male gender
  • race, especially African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians

Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

You may not have any symptoms at first, but as the plaque buildup worsens, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (angina): You may feel pain, pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center or left side of your chest. Physical activity or emotional stress can trigger the sensation, and it goes away within a few minutes of stopping the activity.
  • Shortness of breath: You may have difficulty breathing during physical activity.
  • Fatigue: You may feel extremely tired with or without activity.
  • Heart attack: Some people may not know that they have CAD until they have a heart attack. When a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, sometimes suddenly, a heart attack occurs. Learn more about heart attack symptoms.

Coronary Artery Disease Complications

If left untreated, CAD can lead to other heart conditions, some of which are life-threatening:

  • Cardiogenic shock: This life-threatening emergency can develop after severe injury to heart muscle function. This type of injury includes a heart attack or a dangerous arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm).
  • Heart attack: If a heart artery becomes completely blocked, a heart attack can happen.
  • Heart failure: CAD can weaken the heart, and a heart attack can damage heart tissue. Both conditions can lead to heart failure.
  • Arrhythmia: CAD and heart attacks can disrupt the heart’s electrical system, which can cause irregular heart rhythms. Learn more about arrhythmias.

Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease

We begin your evaluation by discussing your symptoms, medical history and risk factors. You will then have a complete physical exam. We often order tests to confirm a diagnosis and plan your treatment. Tests you might need include specialized cardiac imaging and a stress test.

If you have other conditions that can affect your heart health, we may recommend additional tests. Learn more about our heart testing and diagnostics process.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital: Our Coronary Artery Disease Treatments

Washington University heart specialists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital have decades of experience diagnosing and treating all types of heart disease, including the most complex cases that may require highly advanced treatments. Our cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other specialists in cardiovascular disease bring together their expertise from multiple fields of medicine. 

We work closely with you to develop a customized treatment plan to improve your heart health and help prevent complications such as heart attacks. Learn more about our coronary artery disease treatment.

Heart Disease Prevention at Barnes-Jewish Hospital

Although coronary artery disease is common, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing it. Our care teams offer screenings and other services to help keep your heart healthy. Find out more about heart disease prevention.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University cardiovascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, please call 888-982-8794.