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Coronary artery disease

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Updated: 4/11/2007 5:47 pm
Over time, fatty deposits can accumulate in the lining of the heart's major blood vessels, creating a condition called coronary artery disease. Although the process is generally gradual, these areas of build up may cause progressively more significant damage to the arterial vessels. As material collects along the inside of the arterial walls, it accumulates into an increasingly larger area called 'plaque.'(PLAK) The resulting thickening and hardening of the walls is known as atherosclerosis (ath-a-ro-skla-RO-sis). One result of this condition is a decrease in the heart's blood supply, which may lead to inadequate oxygen supply to the heart muscle. The arterial plaque build up may also develop surface 'cracks.' Such cracks can easily stimulate the body's healing system, leading to blood clot formation at the crack site. Generally, this process further decreases the artery's diameter. It may also lay the groundwork for several dangerous situations. The clot, or thrombus (THROM-bus), may break free and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. Or sometimes, the arterial opening becomes completely obstructed, causing a heart attack or myocardial infarction (my-o-CAR-dee-al in-FARK-shun). Although the exact cause of coronary artery disease is unknown, several modifiable risk factors have been identified. Cigarette smoke may increase the rate of atherosclerosis. Also, excess dietary cholesterol and saturated fats may increase blood levels of these substances, which are then deposited along arterial walls. This residue may lead to the plaque accumulation and trigger atherosclerosis. High blood pressure is another factor that seems to contribute to the development of coronary heart disease, and extremely sedentary or overweight individuals, people under extreme, continuous emotional stress, and those with diabetes may also run a higher risk of CAD (C-A-D). If you're concerned about coronary artery disease, or have questions about your heart, contact a healthcare provider.
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