Coronary Artery Disease: Heart Attack, Heart Failure, Arrhythmia and Angina

coronary artery disease
coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the narrowing and/or hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscles. It is now the most common type of heart disease and leading cause of death in the United States.

The main reason behind this narrowing and hardening is the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on the inner walls of the arteries. Medically this buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it gets bigger, normal blood flow to the arteries is blocked. With lesser blood, the heart muscle fails to get the blood or oxygen it needs. In this condition most patients feels chest pain (angina) or faces a heart attack. In most cases, heart attack is caused by a blood clot that suddenly clogs inside the narrowed artery and cuts off the hearts’ blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.

Untreated Coronary artery disease often weakens the heart muscle. The weakened heart muscles fail to pump blood which is called heart failure. This also leads to low or missed heart rates called arrhythmia. Heart failure means the heart can’t pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmia is the change in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.

Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease

The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort. This happens when any part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood.

Patients describe Angina as severe pressure or squeezing in chest. Sometimes this can be felt in shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion. Increased activity deteriorates the pain. Bed rest and stress-free conditions improve it. This is why stress always triggers angina.

Shortness of breath is another major symptom of CHD. Shortness of breath happens when the CHD leads to heart failure. In the event of heart failure, the heart can’t pump enough blood. Fluid builds up in the lungs, making it hard to breathe.

Heart Problems and Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Heart Disease is often a silent killer. Many people with CHD look like perfectly fit with no signs or symptoms. This is why a person is often not treated for the disease as s/he might not be diagnosed until a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).

Heart Attack

A heart attack happens when any part of the heart does not get enough oxygen-rich blood. This can also happen if a coronary artery ruptures (breaks open) because of blocks inside.

Blood platelets stick to the injured section of the artery and may form blood clots. When a clot becomes big, it can completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. Heart muscles begin to die due to the untreated blockage. This heart damage may not be obvious, or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems.

Pain or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest is the major symptom of heart attack. This pain often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. Patients describe the discomfort as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It can be mild or severe. Some also described it as indigestion or heartburn.

Angina symptoms are much like those of a heart attack. Unlike heart attack pain, angina pain usually goes away with rest.

Other symptoms include discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach, shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness or fainting, or breaking out in a cold sweat, sleep problems, fatigue (tiredness), or lack of energy.

Heart Failure

Heart failure means the heart can’t pump enough blood. It doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop working.

The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath or trouble breathing; fatigue; and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and veins in the neck.

All of these symptoms are the result of fluid buildup in your body. When symptoms start, one may feel tired and short of breath after routine physical effort, like climbing stairs.


This is the disturbance in the heart’s rhythm. An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rate. It simply means that the heart is too fast or too slow or both. Arrhythmia is so dangerous that it can lead to death if not treated immediately.


About the author

Nazla Fatmi

Nazla Fatmi is an assistant professor of English at Eastern University. She writes on culture, fashion, and lifestyles.

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