Coronary arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Over time, cholesterol and calcium can build up on the inside of your artery walls.
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death of men and women in the U.S.
These fatty deposits, or plaque, are like sludge building up inside a water pipe.
With the plaque build-up, the arteries become hardened and narrowed, preventing your heart from getting enough blood and oxygen.
This process is called atherosclerosis (or stenosis) and can cause angina or a heart attack.
It is important to act quickly if you have symptoms of a heart attack. Call 911 right away if you have:
Angina occurs when your heart doesn't get enough blood. The temporary decrease in blood flow happens when the blood vessels cannot get enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen is called ischemia.
Angina causes a pressure or a squeezing pain in your chest; pain in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back; and other symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, cold sweats and anxiety.
Remember, not all chest pain or discomfort is angina. Have all chest pain checked by your health care provider.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when plaque and a blood clot nearly or totally cuts off the blood flow to your heart. A blocked artery can cause part of your heart muscle to be permanently damaged. A scar forms at the site of the heart attack. The size and location of the scar affects how well your heart can pump.
A heart attack is a life-threatening event. Get help quickly if you have symptoms of a heart attack. (See the "heart attack warning signs" on this page.)
Early treatment can help save your heart - and your life. (About half of the people who die from heart attacks do so within 1 hour at the start of the symptoms, before reaching the hospital.)
Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648
Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts