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Coronary Artery Disease

Updated on August 4, 2011

Early Symptoms and tests

Right after I was diagnosed with lupus, I began having occasional episodes of shortness of breath and sweating-when it wasn't even hot out! Initially, these were only mild inconveniences so I continued an active life. It was when they worsened, that I consulted a lung speicalist (pulmonologist).

He ordered blood tests and a high-resolution CT scan of my lungs to determine if there were easily explained complications of lupus that could be the cause. No.

Even with oxygen and lung medications, the shortness of breath worsened. More tests. All normal. One by one, potential causes led to more tests: again, all normal. Then, I was referred to a heart doctor (cardiologist); more tests.

An echocardiogram led the cardiologist to believe that I needed a stress test. Usually done on a treadmill. the goal of this test is to see how the heart muscle responds to stress. This time, results weren't so normal; I had coronary artery disease (CAD) made worse by lupus.

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

What is coronary artery disease (CAD)?

As blood circulates throughout the body, it transports oxygen and nutrients to organs. In addition, fats, cholesterol and calcium also circulate in the blood.

If excess fats, cholesterol and calcium are deposited on artery walls, they form what is known as plaque. This narrows the arteries. Gradually, plaque hardens, decreasing elasticity of arteries; a condition often referred to as 'hardening of the arteries.' This process is called arteriosclerosis.

If arteries develop enough plaque, the heart has to pump harder to get oxygen to the cells and the patient develops symptoms: chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath: coronary artery disease.

Heart disease: The #1 killer

Heart disease is the number one killer in the US and its risk factors are often divided into modifiable and unmodifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors are those you can change. Unmodifiable risk factors are those you can't change.

According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for developing CAD (coronary heart disease) are smoking, hypertension, high amounts of fats and cholesterol in the blood, obesity, inactivity and high amounts of sugar in the blood resulting from diabetes.

Of all causes of CAD, cigarette smoking is the most modifiable. Smoking also accelerates the process of atherosclerosis and increases LDL cholesterol, decreasing HDL cholesterol.

Hypertension causes heart disease by continually exerting pressure on the artery walls, increasing their susceptibility to CAD and making the heart work harder.

High amounts of dietary fat and cholesterol are other modifiable risk factors. So are obesity, inactivity and high amounts of sugar from diabetes.

Unmodifiable risk factors are age, gender, heredity or race. They are unmodifiable and can't be changed. You can't help if you were born with a blood disorder, are in your 60s, African American or Mexican American

Cardiac Catheterization

A test to determine the extent of coronary artery disease is the cardiac catheterization. In this test, an intravenous line is begun and you are given a mild sedative to help you relax. Then the cardiologist numbs the skin in your groin or arm and inserts a hollow catheter through an artery into the heart. Then, the doctor injects dye through the catheter and visualizes the coronary arteries on x-ray.

During this procedure you are awake, and you may feel pressure at the catheter insertion site. But you won't notice pain. You may feel flushed when dye is injected to visualize your coronary arteries. When the doctor is done taking x-rays, the catheter is removed and the site in the groin or arm is bandaged very carefully. Because it is an artery, there is a great risk of bleeding.


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    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 5 years ago from Chicago


      I will do my best to get another cardiac hub happening! As far as the video, I'll check for another, but am not incredibly confident that I'll find one that explains the cardiac process as well as the one I'd originally posted.

      Thanks, Annie

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      This simple explanation of the coronary heart disease process is interesting and well-spoken. (But FYI, the video would not work.)

      Will look forward to your FU hub on this.

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 5 years ago from Chicago

      I think we can learn from other systems; actually we must. Unfortunately, transforming our healthcare system has become too much of a political football. Healthcare is too valuable a resource to play politics with. Even though we rank 37th in the word for delivery with and satisfaction of our system (and we rage #1 in per capita contribution to the system), we can't ignore the fact that our system, while loaded with flaws, is one of the finest in the world and people come from all over the world to receive care here. So I think what we have to do is listen to the people on the front lines the nurses, the docs, therapists, CNAs for their opinion.

      I agree, as long as our elected reps have their own plan, I doubt that they'd be inclined to take healhtcare on as a 'project.' Also, as long as ANYONE in GOVERNMENT (or ANYONE in the private sector for that matter) stands to increase his/her rank standing in the 'pecking order' the problem won't be solved. So as far as I'm concerned, the government needs to get out and the civilian peoulation make a few suggestions. They work for US!

    • caltex profile image

      caltex 5 years ago

      Hi, Annie. It's great you are taking the time to share what you know. And when you share it the way you do, it makes it easier for someone to understand. Those who are still in school are just so lucky to have all this information easily available to them. How I wish we had the internet when I was still in school. It seems like everything would have been much easier.

      I don't really know what we can do with our healthcare system. For sure, learn from UK's and not take the same path. It probably is a matter of taking on the pharmaceutical giants and the health insurance industry. But for as long as our government representatives have their own wonderful healthcare benefits (paid for by us, the taxpayers) I am afraid none of them would care to take them on, considering the millions of dollars they (pharma and health insurance industry) spend to influence legislation and protect their bottom lines. Yup, not easy.

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 5 years ago from Chicago

      Caltrex, thanks for the compliment. I've always found that when I write what I know-OR what I'm passionate about, I can speak from the hear/can more easily find my voice. By the way, I really enjoyed your health care hub; what are we going to do? Listen to the yous and mes of this world, who might have a clue and no axe to grind? No, that's too easy!

    • caltex profile image

      caltex 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Very informative! You have a knack for making your hubs truly interesting. This is how schoolbooks should be written.

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thanks so much Praiirie. I try and have a particular interest in health care topics and sites.

    • profile image

      Prairieauthor 6 years ago

      Very informative, as usual. Anne writes very clearly and covers topics that we all need to know.

    • V Kumar profile image

      V Kumar 6 years ago

      Very useful info. Thanks for the Hub.

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 6 years ago from Chicago

      Anish, this hub was intended to 'take you' up to and including a cath but no further. I was the patient (also a cardiac nurse) and didn't want to get ahead of myself while writing. My MIND would take to a failed stent, failed PTCA to a CABG. I fully intend to do another hub on the remainder of the chronology. By the way, it was a false + treadmill that lead to a cath. Coronaries are clean as a whistle and muscle is fine!

    • profile image

      Anish 6 years ago

      An interventional procedure Percutaneous coronary intervention can be performed to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of coronary artery disease.PCI also aborts acute myocardial infarction (Heart attack).For more details refer

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thanks for commenting. I'm glad to know that you liked the info. I think I'll follow soon with a hub about WHAT to do to keep heart healthy. This was more disease-oriented. Why not a hub that's more preventative in nature. Thanks so much again for your comments!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very good information. I always care about healthy life and health topic like this one. I learn much from you. Well done, my friend. Take care!


    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Great hub. Very well laid out and easy to follow.