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Coronary Artery Disease Signs and Treatment

Signs & Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | For More Information | Our Program

Heart disease accounts for one in every four deaths in the United States. The most common cardiovascular condition, coronary artery disease is by far the biggest killer in this country.

Surrounding the heart, the coronary arteries work to supply this vital organ with oxygen-rich blood. Healthy arteries normally allow blood to flow freely to wherever it needs to go. However, when these important blood vessels become clogged with plaque, a condition known as atherosclerosis, serious blockage and diminished blood flow can result. Starving the heart of oxygen increases the odds of having a potentially debilitating, if not fatal, heart attack or stroke. Poor diet choices, sedentary lifestyle habits, tobacco use and medical conditions such as diabetesobesity and high blood pressure (hypertension) can greatly contribute to the narrowing of the arteries, increasing the chance for a life-threatening cardiovascular event.

The NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute delivers the highest quality of care for patients suffering from coronary artery disease. Our multidisciplinary team features expert cardiologists, cardiovascular and vascular surgeons and interventional cardiology specialists as well as specialty trained nurses and technicians. These healthcare professionals have vast experience providing acute, preventive and follow-up care for this serious heart condition. While you may only see one specialist at any given time, our integrated system and sophisticated electronic medical record system ensure that many expert minds are involved in providing you with seamless care.

Additionally, we have long been leaders in advancing care through novel research. Pioneering innovative therapies allows us to offer the latest treatment options to our community. 

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms and Signs

While a serious health concern, coronary heart disease is treatable and preventable ‒ as long as you listen to your body’s warning signs.

While coronary artery disease symptoms can vary between men and women and even among individuals with different ethnic backgrounds, common signs of coronary heart disease include:

  • Chest pain (angina) or discomfort
    • pressure
    • squeezing
    • heaviness
    • tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, sweating or lightheadedness
  • Sudden fatigue or lethargy during exertion
  • Pain in the upper body, including arms, back, neck and jaw

Symptoms of heart disease often reveal themselves during or after exercise or even after simple physical activities like walking up a flight of stairs. Consult with your physician if your symptoms seem to be progressing or happening with more frequency. If you develop symptoms at rest and they last more than 10 to 15 minutes, you may be having a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 and seek immediate medical attention.

Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosis

Keep in mind that not everyone with coronary artery disease will exhibit overt signs of a heart attack. Lack of evident symptoms, though, doesn’t lessen the importance of seeking medical advice, especially if you have a family history of heart disease and/or have high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels or smoke, to name a few key risk factors. An accurate evaluation by a qualified cardiovascular expert will ensure that you receive timely and appropriate care that could prevent irreparable damage to your heart and save your life.

Your NorthShore cardiologist will ask you about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Patients will often undergo non-invasive tests, including EKGs and echocardiograms (ultrasound exams). We frequently utilize exercise stress testing as another diagnostic tool.

If you are experiencing the more classic symptoms of angina or a heart attack, your physician may recommend a coronary angiogram. A catheter-based therapy performed by specially-trained interventional cardiologists, this minimally-invasive diagnostic procedure provides detailed images of your arteries and helps to pinpoint areas of blockage.

For those patients with a family history of cardiovascular issues, including high cholesterol or high blood pressure, it may be recommended to undergo genetic testing  to determine your risk. Our efforts in personalized medicine can help guide prevention, diagnosis and treatment for various cardiovascular conditions.

Coronary Artery Disease Treatment

Treating coronary artery disease often requires a multifaceted approach. At NorthShore, our multidisciplinary team of heart specialists works closely together to develop personalized treatment plans that best optimize outcomes for our patients.

Medication may be the first initial step in coronary artery disease treatment, if your diseased coronary artery shows less than 50% blockage and/or you are not a good candidate for a catheter-based cardiovascular procedure or surgery. Your physician may recommend plaque-fighting drugs such as aspirin as a blood thinner or statins to lower your “harmful” blood cholesterol levels.

Balloon angioplasty, also called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), may be recommended to open up a blocked blood vessel to restore blood flow. Performed by an interventional cardiologist, this non-surgical procedure is often used to make room in a narrowed artery for a stent. This medical device serves as a miniature scaffold to prop up the arterial walls and allow blood to flow to the heart. Our interventional cardiology team is available 24/7 to perform emergency angioplasty at any one of our NorthShore hospitals for patients suffering a heart attack due to coronary artery disease.

The standard of care for patients with left main coronary artery stenosis and/or multi-vessel disease is usually coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery. Simply known as bypass surgery, this open heart procedure involves the creation of essential new avenues of blood flow to the heart that “bypass” areas of blockage. NorthShore’s cardiothoracic surgeons have vast expertise and achieved a high success rate with CABG.

For patients diagnosed with chronic total occlusion (CTO)—complete or nearly complete blockage of a coronary artery for more than 30 days—both percutaneous coronary intervention or bypass surgery may be considered, depending on the unique patient case.

The elderly are at particular risk for coronary artery disease combined with a heart valve disorder. Our expertise and dedicated clinical programs for both types of heart conditions ensures patients receive state-of-the-art care, including the latest in non-surgical percutaneous aortic valve replacement.

Complex Coronary Artery Disease Program

NorthShore’s interventional cardiology team has particular expertise in treating complex cases of coronary artery disease, especially for patients who continue to have debilitating symptoms or poor quality of life despite medications and/or surgery. Our skilled specialists employ cutting-edge percutaneous coronary intervention techniques to unblock coronary arteries with exceptional outcomes.

 For patients with CTO, our team typically achieves a 90 percent success rate in opening—and keeping open—completely closed (occluded) arterial blockages. For other coronary artery conditions, our specialists are skilled in performing high-risk stenting procedures for patients whose health status may place them at high risk for conventional stenting and/or bypass surgery. At NorthShore, we offer a world-class complex coronary disease program not found in many other health systems. We currently serve as a regional trainer for some of the latest technologies available in the field.

For More Information

Please call 844.805.8799 for more information on coronary artery disease or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.