Atherosclerosis and Coronary Artery Disease

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 20 May 2022

Table of Contents:


  1. Coronary Artery Disease
  2. Cold Facts About Hard Arteries
  3. Causes
  4. Plaques’ Sneak Attacks
  5. Reduce Your Risk of Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

Atherosclerosis, also known as artery hardening, is a condition that causes the arteries in your body to widen over time.


Coronary artery disease occurs when atherosclerosis affects the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle. That is one of the leading causes of death globally. The majority of people who die are victims of heart attacks caused by blood clots.

Atherosclerosis can cause life-threatening blockages without causing any discomfort. We should all learn more about atherosclerosis and we're all at risk for coronary artery disease.

Heart Disease Facts


  • Cardiovascular diseases are the number 1 cause of death globally: more people die annually from cardiovascular diseases than from any other cause.
  • An estimated 17.9 million people died from Cardiovascular diseases in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85% are due to heart attack and stroke.
  • Over three quarters of cardiovascular disease deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Out of the 17 million premature deaths (under the age of 70) due to noncommunicable diseases in 2015, 82% are in low- and middle-income countries, and 37% are caused by Cardiovascular diseases.

Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol using population-wide strategies.

People with cardiovascular disease or who are at high cardiovascular risk (due to the presence of one or more risk factors such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, hyperlipidaemia (high lipids and cholesterol) or already established disease need early detection and management using counselling and medicines, as appropriate.




All of us have learned that heart attacks are caused by clogged arteries. But how does atherosclerosis contribute to the development of coronary artery disease?


The smooth internal surface of the coronary arteries is first affected. The most common causes are high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes.

The “bad" cholesterol, LDL, begins to build up in the wall of the coronary artery. A “clean-up team" of white blood cells and other cells is sent to the hazardous site by the body.


A plaque is formed over time as a result of the accumulation of cholesterol and the body's reaction to it. This is an artery wall bump that can block blood flow.

Plaques’ Sneak Attacks


Plaques of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries can behave in a variety of ways:


  • They will develop slowly and never obstruct an artery or cause blood clots.
  • They have the ability to increase and obstruct blood flow in coronary arteries. Even when the artery is completely blocked, there may be no signs.
  • A blockage can also cause symptoms in some cases. This is known as “healthy angina," and it is characterised by chest pain that worsens with exercise. With rest, it will go away. It isn't a heart attack, but it does indicate that you are at risk for one and should be treated with drugs as soon as possible.
  • A plaque has the potential to rupture. Blood clots rapidly within the coronary artery as a result of this.
  • Plaque rupture is every bit as bad as it sounds. A blood clot forms, causing pain in your chest.


There are two possibilities:


Unstable angina: The blood vessel isn't completely blocked by the clot. The substance then disintegrates without causing a heart attack.


Heart attack (myocardial infarction): The clot has blocked the coronary artery for long enough to inflict permanent harm. The heart muscle dies due to a lack of nutrients and oxygen.


Blood clots can appear in all of the heart's arteries, even if they are only partially blocked.

Reduce Your Risk of Coronary Artery Disease


Nobody knows who is going to have a heart attack. Coronary artery disease, on the other hand, does not strike at random. Most people with coronary artery disease have one or more risk factors that they can alter.


Most people who have a heart attack have one or more of the risk factors mentioned below. All of these things can cause atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. They're also responsible for coronary heart disease:


  • Cigarette smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity  
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Low fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Poor socioeconomic status


The majority of us have a lot of room for improvement .


Seeing a doctor is the best way to assess your risk level. However, you can start lowering your risk right now. Eat well, don't smoke, and get some exercise. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new workout regimen.

To keep their cholesterol and blood pressure in a safe range, some people will need to take medication.


Referenced on 30/4/2021

  1. WHO Cardiovascular Disease Fact Sheet
  2. American Heart Association: “Cardiovascular Disease Statistics."
  3. American Heart Association: “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics."
  4. CDC: “Heart Disease Facts."
  5. Rosamond, W. Circulation, 2007.
  6. Hurst, W. The Heart, Arteries and Veins, 10th edition, McGraw-Hill, 2002.
  7. Yusuf, S. Lancet, 2004.
  8. Vasan, R. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2005.
  9. Sever, P. Lancet, 2003.
  10. Mark Silverman, MD, emeritus professor of medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, chief of cardiology, Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta.

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