Health Guide

Coronary artery disease

What is it?

Coronary artery disease is also called "CAD." CAD is when the arteries in your heart narrow or become blocked. CAD may cause angina (chest pain), a heart attack, or congestive heart failure. CAD is one of the leading causes of death in America. The chance of dying from CAD today is much less than 40 years ago.

CAD is more common in older people. Both men and women can get CAD. CAD is not as common in women before menopause (change of life). You may be more likely to get CAD if you have family members who have it.


CAD is caused by cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-all) and blood clots that collect inside your arteries (blood vessels). When your arteries get narrow or blocked, they cannot get oxygen to your heart muscle. This part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies.

Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eating unhealthy foods, being overweight, and not exercising may cause CAD.

Signs and Symptoms:

You may not have any symptoms of CAD. The most common symptom of CAD is angina pectoris. Angina (AN-gin-uh) pectoris (pek-TOR-is) is chest pain that happens when your heart does not get enough oxygen. The pain is usually caused by a blockage or spasm of the arteries in the heart. You could have a heart attack if your angina is not treated. You may have stable or unstable angina.

Stable Angina: The most common symptom of stable angina is chest pain. The pain may start below the breast bone. It may feel crushing, tight, or heavy. It may move to the neck, jaw, shoulders, back, or inner arms. You may have pain under the breast bone that feels like indigestion (burning). The pain often starts slowly and may only last a few minutes. Stable angina may be caused by cold air or getting upset. Physical work, like walking or snow shoveling, may also cause pain. Angina may feel different to each person. Rest or medicine usually makes stable angina go away.

Unstable Angina: Unstable angina is chest pain that happens more often or with less activity than before. Unstable angina starts while you are resting or exercising. After resting, you may still have pain. Unstable angina is a warning that you may be at risk for a heart attack.

Wellness Recommendations:

Exercise when your caregiver says it is OK. If you smoke, quit. Lose weight if you are overweight. Eat low fat, low salt, high fiber foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Learn how to control stress.

Medical Care:

Tests may be done to learn if you have blockage in your heart arteries. You may need to take medicine to decrease cholesterol. You may need to go into the hospital for tests and treatment. Surgery may be needed if tests show you have serious blockage of your heart arteries.

Dietary Measures:

  • A vegetarian diet decreases heart disease risk.
  • Fiber in your diet decreases cholesterol and heart disease risk.
  • Avoid saturated fats that increase heart disease risk.
  • Use olive oil in your cooking as it may decrease heart disease risk.
  • Eating onion, garlic, and soy may improve heart disease and high cholesterol.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.


  • Artichoke (Cynarae folium) extract may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum - graecum) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum) may decrease cholesterol. Fresh garlic is likely more helpful in lowering cholesterol than garlic pills.
  • Guggul (Commiphora mukul) may help in lowering cholesterol. Read the label on the bottle carefully. Be sure the label says each pill contains 4% gugulsterones.


  • Arginine may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Calcium is helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Chitosan may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Chromium may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Fish oil (DHA, EPA) is helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Gamma oryzanol may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Guar gum may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people. It works best when used with cholesterol-lowering medicine.
  • Lecithin may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Niacin lowers cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Plant sterols and stanols (Beta-sitosterol) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Policosanol may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Tocotrienols may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin C may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin E may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.

Complementary Therapies:

  • Acupuncture may help coronary artery disease.
  • Relaxation techniques and meditation may help coronary artery disease.
  • Yoga may help coronary artery disease.


Call 911 or 0 (operator) if you have the following signs or symptoms that may mean you are having a heart attack. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

  • Crushing chest pressure or pain in the center of the chest that spreads to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back. The pain may be like a burning feeling that feels like heartburn. Chest pain may last more than a few minutes or the pain may go away and come back.
  • Cold sweats or sweating.
  • Feeling short of breath.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


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Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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