Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is a cardiac condition caused when plaque in the coronary artery restricts the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, calcium deposits, cellular waste, fats, and fibrin that accumulates in the body over time. As the concentration of these substances increases in the blood stream, they can adhere to the arterial walls and form plaque. The accumulation of plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis.
While the exact cause of atherosclerosis is not known, studies indicate that it is a slow disease which may originate in childhood. Certain factors, such as diets heavy in low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol), having high blood pressure, having high blood sugar as a result of diabetes or insulin resistance, or smoking may increase the rate of arterial plaque formation. Damage to the arterial walls can cause an increased susceptibility to plaque formation. In response to plaque formation, surrounding cells may also secrete substances that further facilitate plaque formation.
Coronary artery disease can present a more serious issue for women, as it is more identifiable in men. The symptoms of coronary artery disease can be different for men and women, and studies indicate that women are less likely to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. The presence of pain or pressure across the chest, radiating to the arm or jaw can be an indication of coronary artery disease. Women may also experience shortness of breath, a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, sweating, fatigue, nausea, and an irregular heartbeat. Women also tend to experience symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and indigestion as initial symptoms of heart problems. Chest discomfort, angina, and other more common symptoms may present later.
Women may also experience symptoms later than men do. Studies indicate that women experience symptoms of heart disease 10 years later than men, but may have heart attacks 10 years earlier than men.