Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as ischemic heart disease (IHD), involves the reduction of blood flow to the heart muscle due to build up of plaque in the arteries of the heart. It is the most common of the cardiovascular diseases. Types include stable angina, unstable angina, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death. A common symptom is chest pain or discomfort which may travel into the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw. Occasionally it may feel like heartburn. Usually symptoms occur with exercise or emotional stress, last less than a few minutes, and improve with rest. Shortness of breath may also occur and sometimes no symptoms are present. In many cases, the first sign is a heart attack. Other complications include heart failure or an abnormal heartbeat.
Job stress appears to play a minor role accounting for about 3% of cases. In one study, women who were free of stress from work life saw an increase in the diameter of their blood vessels, leading to decreased progression of atherosclerosis. In contrast, women who had high levels of work-related stress experienced a decrease in the diameter of their blood vessels and significantly increased disease progression. Having a type A behavior pattern, a group of personality characteristics including time urgency, competitiveness, hostility, and impatience, is linked to an increased risk of coronary disease.
Limitation of blood flow to the heart causes ischemia (cell starvation secondary to a lack of oxygen) of the heart's muscle cells. The heart's muscle cells may die from lack of oxygen and this is called a myocardial infarction (commonly referred to as a heart attack). It leads to damage, death, and eventual scarring of the heart muscle without regrowth of heart muscle cells. Chronic high-grade narrowing of the coronary arteries can induce transient ischemia which leads to the induction of a ventricular arrhythmia, which may terminate into a dangerous heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation, which often leads to death.
For symptomatic people, stress echocardiography can be used to make a diagnosis for obstructive coronary artery disease. The use of echocardiography, stress cardiac imaging, and/or advanced non-invasive imaging is not recommended on individuals who are exhibiting no symptoms and are otherwise at low risk for developing coronary disease.
Diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome generally takes place in the emergency department, where ECGs may be performed sequentially to identify "evolving changes" (indicating ongoing damage to the heart muscle). Diagnosis is clear-cut if ECGs show elevation of the "ST segment", which in the context of severe typical chest pain is strongly indicative of an acute myocardial infarction (MI); this is termed a STEMI (ST-elevation MI) and is treated as an emergency with either urgent coronary angiography and percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty with or without stent insertion) or with thrombolysis ("clot buster" medication), whichever is available. In the absence of ST-segment elevation, heart damage is detected by cardiac markers (blood tests that identify heart muscle damage). If there is evidence of damage (infarction), the chest pain is attributed to a "non-ST elevation MI" (NSTEMI). If there is no evidence of damage, the term "unstable angina" is used. This process usually necessitates hospital admission and close observation on a coronary care unit for possible complications (such as cardiac arrhythmias – irregularities in the heart rate). Depending on the risk assessment, stress testing or angiography may be used to identify and treat coronary artery disease in patients who have had an NSTEMI or unstable angina.
Although exercise is beneficial, it is unclear whether doctors should spend time counseling patients to exercise. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found "insufficient evidence" to recommend that doctors counsel patients on exercise but "it did not review the evidence for the effectiveness of physical activity to reduce chronic disease, morbidity and mortality", only the effectiveness of counseling itself. The American Heart Association, based on a non-systematic review, recommends that doctors counsel patients on exercise.
As of 2010, CAD was the leading cause of death globally resulting in over 7 million deaths. This increased from 5.2 million deaths from CAD worldwide in 1990. It may affect individuals at any age but becomes dramatically more common at progressively older ages, with approximately a tripling with each decade of life. Males are affected more often than females.
A more controversial link is that between Chlamydophila pneumoniae infection and atherosclerosis. While this intracellular organism has been demonstrated in atherosclerotic plaques, evidence is inconclusive as to whether it can be considered a causative factor. Treatment with antibiotics in patients with proven atherosclerosis has not demonstrated a decreased risk of heart attacks or other coronary vascular diseases.