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Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), you're not alone. It is the most common type of heart disease in the US among both women and men, with over 18 million adults suffering from this condition.

Whether you’re newly diagnosed with CAD or previous treatments haven’t worked, you’ll find unmatched care and support at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center. We offer advanced treatments that make it possible to reduce or abolish CAD symptoms – even in people with complex coronary disease or chronic total occlusion.

Our CAD specialists perform the full range of minimally invasive “interventional” procedures, including new or complex techniques that are not widely available. This means we can tailor treatments to each patient’s risk factors, medical needs and personal goals.

We also offer second opinions and have successfully helped patients who were told their coronary blockages were not treatable, either with open-heart surgery or with a stent procedure.

About this condition

The coronary arteries are blood vessels that wrap around the outside of your heart. They carry blood – which contains oxygen and nutrients – to your heart. This is important because the heart muscle needs oxygen to work properly.

Healthy coronary arteries are smooth and spacious, making it easy for blood to flow through. If these arteries become clogged with plaque (a sticky substance that contains cholesterol, fats, and often calcium), it is harder for the blood to reach your heart. These narrowings of the coronary arteries are often referred to as coronary artery disease, CAD.

Complications of coronary artery disease

As plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it reduces blood flow to the heart. If your heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen, you may have angina (chest pain or tightness) or shortness of breath.

Over time, a coronary artery can slowly become completely blocked, a debilitating condition called chronic total occlusion.

CAD can also cause a heart attack or heart failure (the heart can’t pump enough blood to nourish the rest of the body).

Coronary artery disease risk factors

Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing CAD. These include:

  • Aging
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use

People with medical conditions such as kidney disease and diabetes are also prone to CAD and may develop it at an early age.

Innovative diagnostic tests inform treatments

  • If your provider suspects you have CAD, or needs to confirm its severity, you may need one or more tests. Pauley Heart Center offers the latest minimally invasive and noninvasive diagnostic procedures, including:
  • Cardiac catheterization – Combines catheters (thin, flexible tubes), X-ray imaging and contrast solution (a special dye) to look for heart problems and see how well blood flows through the coronary arteries.
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scans – Takes many pictures of the heart and blood vessels and combines them into a 3D model.
  • Coronary artery calcium scans – A type of CT scan that looks for calcium build-up in the coronary arteries.
  • Echocardiograms – Uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart.
  • Electrocardiograms – Records the heart’s electrical signals.
  • Exercise stress tests – A type of EKG that shows how well the heart works during physical activity.

Your test results play an important role in determining which treatment is most effective. Learn more about our minimally invasive treatments for CAD.

Read Charles Chitwood's Story