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Coronary Artery Disease

Nearly 16 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease—the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. This condition occurs when the small blood vessels that bring blood and oxygen to the heart narrow, reducing blood supply. The Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Heart & Vascular Center specializes in diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease, giving our patients the best chance of a successful recovery and healthy life.

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is caused by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the inside of the coronary arteries. These deposits, called atherosclerosis, decrease the amount of room available for blood to flow through. Since coronary arteries deliver blood to the heart muscle, any decrease in blood flow can have serious consequences. If left untreated, coronary artery disease can lead to chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, heart attack and possibly death.

Several factors can increase your chance of coronary artery disease, including:

  • high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides levels and reduced HDL cholesterol

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • physical inactivity

  • smoking

  • obesity

  • diabetes

  • genetic predisposition

Symptoms vary in each person, with some patients having no noticeable symptoms. Typically, as less and less oxygenated blood reaches the heart, chest pain results. If the blood supply is completely cut off, the heart muscle begins to die and a heart attack occurs.

Other symptoms of coronary artery disease may include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue and pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back.

Complications from Coronary Artery Disease

patient being rushed to the emergency department
98 percent of STEMI heart attack patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital receive percutaneous coronary intervention in less than 90 minutes.

Coronary artery disease can lead to myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks. A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes partially or completely blocked by a blood clot. This blockage causes portions of the heart muscle being supplied with blood by that artery to become infarcted (to die).

A STEMI (segment elevated myocardial infarction) is a type of heart attack in which the artery is completely blocked by the blood clot. When a patient experiences a STEMI, all of the heart muscle areas being supplied by the blocked artery start to die. This can lead to a condition known as heart failure, where the heart does not pump blood adequately, leading to shortness of breath and fatigue.

Heart & Vascular Center physicians were the first in the nation to use clot-busting drugs such as streptokinase and tissue plasminogen activator to treat coronary artery disease. Our team of cardiologists and emergency department physicians continues to work to improve outcomes for STEMI heart attack patients. Today, 98 percent of STEMI patients receive a percutaneous coronary intervention in less than 90 minutes at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Coronary Artery Disease Treatment

While successful and long-term treatment of coronary artery disease includes a modification of risk factors and adoption of a healthier lifestyle, there are several medical and surgical treatments available as well. The Heart & Vascular Center specializes in the following treatments for coronary artery disease:

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart or vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.