Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a type of heart disease where fatty deposits, called plaque, build up in the arteries that lead to the heart. This build up (atherosclerosis) causes arteries to become narrow and blocked, which restricts blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle.

When the oxygen deprivation is severe enough in the coronary arteries, it causes injury to the tissues of the heart. These narrow and stiff arteries not only slow down blood flow, they also become vulnerable to injury and clot formation. This can ultimately lead to heart failure or a heart attack.

Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

The most important factors that increase the risk for heart disease, and specifically CAD, are:

  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Advancing age
  • Genetic factors

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

Angina is the primary symptom of CAD. Angina is chest pain or discomfort. It can also be described as pressure, heaviness, tightening, and aching, particularly behind the breastbone.

Other symptoms for CAD include shortness of breath (particularly during physical exertion) and rapid heartbeat.

Sometimes patients with CAD have few or no symptoms until they have a heart attack or heart failure.

Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosis

There are many tests your doctor can use to diagnose CAD. The choices depend on your risk factors, history and current symptoms. At the Wake Forest Baptist Heart and Vascular Center, we have a team of technologists, doctors and nurses dedicated exclusively to the expert diagnosis of heart conditions. Some of the tests we offer to diagnose heart disease include:

Coronary Artery Disease Treatment

At the Heart and Vascular Center, we believe it's just as important to manage your disease as it is to treat it. For some patients, medical management may even be an effective alternative to surgery.

If you have been diagnosed with CAD, there are several treatment options you should discuss with your doctor. Depending on the severity and your individual condition as well as other risk factors, your doctor may prescribe any of the following treatment options.

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Procedures


Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may have you make certain lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of further heart damage. Many of these changes are measures that everyone should take to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.

  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Maintain active lifestyle
  • Maintain healthy body weight
  • Manage diabetes or kidney disease
  • Receive annual flu vaccine


Procedures may be needed to open a blocked or narrowed coronary artery and improve blood flow to the heart.

  • Angioplasty (usually with stenting) uses a small balloon to open the blood vessel.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft is a more invasive procedure that uses grafts in the form of arteries or veins to reroute blood flow to the heart.

No procedure cures CAD or the systemic process underlying it (atherosclerosis) and patients must continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take any necessary medications. For some patients, lifestyle changes and medications may be able to control the disease without angioplasty or surgery.

Only you and your doctor can decide which treatment is right for you. All of our patients receive pre-operative counseling to help them understand the risks and benefits of any procedure.

Heart and Vascular Center

Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center combines cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to patient- and family-centered care. At the Heart and Vascular Center, our philosophy is clear: patients come first. We offer the latest in technology, devices and medication combined with personalized care, to offer life-changing vascular and heart disease treatments.