Coronary Artery Disease
Treatment for coronary artery disease focuses on taking steps to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. For example:
- If your doctor agrees, take a low-dose aspirin each day to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.
- If you can't control your high blood pressure and high cholesterol with healthier habits, you may need to take medicines. They can help you manage these health problems and lower your risk.
- Your doctor may also suggest medicines if your angina symptoms make it hard to do everyday activities.
- If medicines don't help your angina, your doctor may suggest procedures to improve blood flow to the heart. Reference Angioplasty Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window with or without Reference stent placement Opens New Window is one way to open clogged coronary arteries. Or sometimes Reference coronary artery bypass graft Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window surgery may be needed.
- No matter what kind of treatment you get, healthy habits such as quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular exercise are important.
What to think about
Keep these questions in mind as you think about your treatment options:
- Will this treatment improve my symptoms?
- Will this treatment help prevent future heart problems?
- Am I likely to live longer with this treatment?
- What are the risks of this treatment?
Lifestyle changes are the first step for anyone with coronary artery disease. But sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough. You may also need medicines. If you take medicines, take them on a schedule and take the correct dose. Taking medicines properly can help you prevent a heart attack or stroke.
When you're first diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor will strongly advise you to make lifestyle changes. These include quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. These healthy habits can slow or even stop the disease and improve the quality and length of your life.
Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of future problems. When you quit, you quickly lower your risk of a heart attack.Reference 1
If you smoke, Reference try to quit. Medicines and counseling can help you quit for good.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. This can help you keep your disease from getting worse. A chart that compares heart-healthy diets (What is a Reference PDF Opens New Window document?) can help you see what foods are suggested in each plan. A heart-healthy diet means:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods.
- Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Limit salt.
- Stay at a healthy weight by balancing the calories you eat with how much physical activity you get.
- Eat more foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish.
Start an exercise program (if your doctor says it's safe). Try walking, swimming, biking, or jogging for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. You may need to start slow and build up to this amount. Any activity you enjoy will work, as long as it gets your heart rate up. In people with heart disease, exercise can help lower the chance of a heart attack.
One Man's Story:
"I've had to work at keeping my weight under control, and that has really helped my cholesterol. When you have heart disease, you learn to eat better for the rest of your life. And if you don't, you're asking for trouble.—Alan
Aspirin or other antiplatelets. Your doctor will probably recommend that you take Reference aspirin or other antiplatelets every day. Antiplatelet medicine can reduce the risk of having a heart attack in people with heart disease.
Cholesterol. Your doctor may prescribe a medicine to lower your cholesterol, such as a Reference statin.
Heart medicines. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that lower blood pressure or decrease your heart's workload. These medicines include:
After you start treatment for coronary artery disease, your doctor will want to keep track of how you are doing. He or she will want to know if you've made lifestyle changes and if they have helped. For example, your blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight will be checked. These measures will help your doctor find out if lifestyle changes are working.
If you take medicines, your doctor will want to know if you feel any side effects. If you take medicine for angina (chest pain or discomfort), your doctor will want to know how well it works. Does the medicine ease your pain quickly? Do you get chest pain less often?
You will likely need to keep taking medicines that lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and that reduce your risk of having a heart attack. Your doctor will also want to check how well these medicines work for you. If they're not working, he or she may want you to try a different dose or take a different kind of medicine.
Talk to your doctor about Reference cardiac rehabilitation Opens New Window. In cardiac rehab, a team of health professionals provides education and support to help you build new, healthy habits such as eating right and getting more exercise. For keeping your heart healthy and your arteries open, making these changes is just as important as getting treatment.
Treatment if the disease gets worse
Sometimes coronary artery disease gets worse even with treatment. If you start to have abnormal heart rhythms (Reference arrhythmias Opens New Window), your doctor might suggest a Reference pacemaker Opens New Window or medicines to control your heart rate.
If your angina symptoms get worse even though you are taking medicines, you may need procedures to improve blood flow to your heart. They are also done when the coronary arteries are severely blocked. These procedures include Reference angioplasty Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window with or without stenting and Reference coronary artery bypass graft Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window surgery.
When deciding between bypass surgery and angioplasty, your doctor will think about several things, such as how many arteries are blocked and whether you have diabetes.
- Opens New Window Heart Disease: Should I Have Angioplasty for Stable Angina? Opens New Window
- Opens New Window Heart Disease: Should I Have Bypass Surgery? Opens New Window
Coronary artery disease can lead to Reference heart failure Opens New Window and the need for other medicines. These medicines can help you feel better and prevent your heart failure from getting worse.
If your coronary artery disease gets worse, you may want to think about Reference palliative care Opens New Window. Palliative care is a kind of care for people who have diseases that do not go away and often get worse over time. It is different from care to cure your illness, which is called curative treatment.
Palliative care focuses on improving your quality of life—not just in your body, but also in your mind and spirit. Some people combine palliative care with curative care.
Palliative care may help you manage symptoms or side effects from treatment. It can also help you and your family to:
- Cope with your feelings about living with a long-term disease.
- Make future plans around your medical care.
- Understand your disease and how to support you.
If you are interested in palliative care, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to manage your care or refer you to a doctor who specializes in this type of care.
For more information, see the topic Reference Palliative Care.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference May 9, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Reference Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
- Health Tools
- What Increases Your Risk
- When to Call a Doctor
- Exams and Tests
- Treatment Overview
- What Happens
- Living With Heart Disease
- Angioplasty and Other Treatment
- End-of-Life Decisions
- Other Places To Get Help
- Related Information