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What Is Coronary Atherosclerosis?

Smoking leads to an increased risk of developing coronary atherosclerosis.
Shortness of breath and chest pain can be symptoms of coronary atherosclerosis.
Signs of artery buildup can be checked by performing blood tests.
The anatomy of a heart attack. Cholesterol in the bloodstream can build up as atherosclerotic plaque.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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Coronary atherosclerosis is a medical condition in which a person's arteries become clogged with cholesterol, calcium, and cellular waste. As material builds up on the inner lining of arterial blood vessels, it tends to harden and constrict blood flow. An individual with atherosclerosis is at a very high risk of developing severe and even fatal complications, including coronary artery disease, angina, heart attacks, and strokes. Problems can arise from a number of factors, including a poor diet, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and inherited genetic tendencies toward heart and artery problems. Many people are able to relieve their symptoms by making healthy lifestyle changes and taking prescription cholesterol-lowering medication, though some require surgery to clear the arteries and promote recovery.

The body uses cholesterol to produce important hormones, form bile, and solidify cell membranes. Cholesterol is transported through the blood to cellular material throughout the body, but if there is too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, it begins to build up in the arteries and trap other non-soluble particles, like calcium. A thick, hard substance known as plaque will then coat the interior lining of arteries, constricting blood flow and increasing the likelihood of dangerous blood clots.

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An individual with coronary atherosclerosis might not notice symptoms until a dangerous amount of plaque has built up in his or her arteries. People with this condition often experience difficulty breathing, irregular heart rate, and high blood pressure. Left untreated, individuals may suffer from strokes, edema in their extremities, severe chest pains, coronary artery disease, or even complete heart failure. A person who experiences shortness of breath or angina symptoms should contact a medical professional immediately to obtain a proper diagnosis and initiate treatment.

Healthcare professionals usually check for signs of buildup in the arteries by conducting physical examinations, ordering blood tests to determine cholesterol levels, and analyzing echocardiograph scans to look for blockages. If excessive plaque is discovered, they usually suggest changes in diet and exercise routines to promote better health. The medical professional may also prescribe medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A patient with advanced coronary atherosclerosis may need to undergo surgery, such as an arterial bypass or angioplasty, where arteries are widened and cleared of debris.

Preventing this condition and its resulting health concerns is not always possible, but certain steps can be taken to significantly reduce the risk of developing problems. Individuals can maintain healthy diets, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and limit their intake of alcohol. It is especially important for people with family histories of heart problems and those with high blood pressure or diabetes to maintain healthy lifestyles and schedule regular checkups with a medical professional.

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Discuss this Article

anon350847
Post 13

I am a 61 year old woman and have had diabetes type 2 since age 50. I was diet/exercised controlled and did not take metformin until a year ago when my sugars started going up. In August 2013, I noticed I could not feel my wrist pulses. It is now October and after seeing a cardiologist, have found that I have subclavian stenosis (atherosclerosis in the arteries that feed the arms). I have just started statins.

I have kept my cholesterol levels down for years and hardly eat any meat. But my triglycerides have been elevated from time to time, which I have brought down with flaxseed oil. The doctor tells me it is the diabetes that brought it on and that subclavian artery disease is rare. I'm just glad I caught it in time.

anon338470
Post 12

My heartfelt grief to all. In April 2013, I lost my best friend -- my husband of 20 years and the coroner's report was the same as all you ladies shared.

I sadly found my Kevin after four hours, as we both work shift work and he had been gone that long. He appeared to have passed without pain as his face was so peaceful. All I can hope for is that he passed and wasn't aware, as he appeared to have just gone to sleep on our bed.

We have no children and I am struggling through. God bless you ladies and believe they are watching us.

anon307390
Post 11

Thank you all of you - My father's post mortem has just come back as Coronary Atherosclerosis. Not knowing what it was, I read your comments. I have just realised I have the exact symptoms you describe above and unfortunately have the high cholesterol from my father's gene pool. The discomfort I have had has been diagnosed as just gastric reflux and therefore I had postponed going to the doctors after further tests, however, I have just booked an appointment and will be going.

anon295199
Post 10

My mother passed away. The coroner's finding was coronary atherosclerosis. My mom had diabetes and other health-related problems from diabetes but never did her doctor check her heart to see if she had any kind of heart issues.

When I would take my mom to the doctor, my mom always complained about shortness of breath and the doctor would tell her it was due to her being overweight. Now I wonder if she had a better doctor, would my mom be here today?

I was the one who found my mom passed away in her bed. I knew she was gone and nothing could bring her back. I just hope she didn't suffer.

anon280245
Post 9

Before the so-called 'good doctors' prescribe you with statins, please read: 'The great cholesterol con' by Dr. Kendrick and 'Eat right for your blood type' by Dr. D'adamo. They make complete sense for what the traditional statements don't have the answers for yet or simply don't want to disclose about cholesterol I hope they will change your life, as they did mine.

anon245297
Post 8

My mum died three years ago at the age of 47 and the coroners report listed it as coronary atherosclerosis caused by diabetes.

I worked on my mum while I waited for the ambulance to arrive, but she was long gone even though she still felt warm to me.

The thing that baffles is that while she was being treated by doctors for her pancreatitis, why were they not keeping an eye on these other problems that can arise from certain illnesses? She had the high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and also angina of the heart! Why do they not make people aware of other problems that can come around so people can try make the life changes to stay with the ones they love longer!

anon162744
Post 7

My partner of 16 years died suddenly two weeks ago, with the coroner listing acute myocardial ischaemia and coronary atherosclerosis as the cause. He was perfectly OK the night before dying around 2.30 a.m. I performed CPR which was terrifying. I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive but am now fairly sure he was already dead. He worked very hard and seemed very fit but sadly although not in front of me, did smoke, but he used to eat 'quick ease' like lollies for indigestion.

anon145507
Post 6

My 55 year old, healthy husband died suddenly on the couch Nov 2010. The state coroner wrote that the cause of death was due to coronary atherosclerosis which completely baffled me.

He had just days before had a complete medical check up and blood tests, etc., with our local GP at my request because we had recently lost a family member and I got anxious. The doctor told me his blood pressure was really good and that his cholesterol was down and that all the blood results were normal.

How does one ever get to know there is this huge underlying problem then? should there not be some sort of heart scan that middle aged people can ask for to find out if they are a walking time bomb? I need and love my husband and feel so alone I just wish we knew about his problem which could have been addressed and even managed.

My heart feels for those ladies who have also lost their partners through this silent killer.

The only thing that I did notice in the three to four months before he died was that he was feeling very tired early in the evenings and seemed to take Epsom salts for heartburn. Maybe that's something to watch out for. We thought we had done the right thing though by getting him a thorough check up by the doctor. It was obviously not thorough enough.

anon138589
Post 5

I buried my fit and healthy 49-year-old husband on Christmas Eve. The coroner's office said it was Coronary Atherosclerosis. I am shocked. He had absolutely no symptoms. He didn't smoke. He only had heartburn when he combined a big meal with a beer. He was tired and snored more the last couple of months, normal for a busy time on the farm. He didn't have high blood pressure.

Although my son and I worked on him for half an hour until the ambulance arrived, I know in my heart he too, died quickly and I hope without pain.

anon136242
Post 4

My husband passed away just over two weeks ago with the coroner's findings being "Coronary Atherosclerosis". He was just 52 years old and like your beloved partners, mine too was fit, strong and handsome. He also suffered from gastric pain and was constantly taking off the shelf medication to ease his indigestion. I am now wondering if this was a symptom?

I could hardly believe my eyes when reading your comments and pass on my sincerest sympathy to you.

I take comfort in the advice given to me both from the authorities and my own investigations that his passing was quick and painless.

anon135638
Post 3

my husband was the same. he seemed so healthy to me -- healthy, strong and handsome, but suddenly passed away from "coronary atherosclerosis." it has broken my heart, and i feel i can barely go on. To the women whose husbands also passed, please tell me how you are doing, and how you cope with the sadness. Thank you!

anon134230
Post 2

The same thing happened to my husband. He was such a healthy and fit man, diagnosed with gastric reflux, was on tablets for couple of months but he was complaining about being bloated and gastro, and he just recently had a colonoscopy and endoscopy to find out he had gastric reflux.

He never smoked, and we hardly ate takeaway etc but he died November 2010.

The coroner's finding was 'Coronary Atherosclerosis' but I have too many questions unanswered, and I can't believe he has died. Please see your doctor if in doubt.

anon113043
Post 1

Proper diagnosis? This all depends on the quality of doctor.

Don't ever believe an initial diagnosis as being "Gastric Reflux Disease" as being the cause of breathing difficulties or bloated abdomen or indigestion symptoms or abdominal pain (specifically between sternum and navel) or tiredness.

For four years my husband suffered incompetence of wrong diagnosis/lack of care, despite constant complaining to doctor about "it must be something else - want further testing - reflux medications are not alleviating the pain or something is very wrong, why am I not getting any relief".

He always exercised; never smoked; was a teetotaller; we ate 'whole' foods (ie. no take-away food) and the result? He died in July 2010.

The Coroner's findings were "Coronary Atherosclerosis." The hardest question I had to answer was "why was my husband not on any medication". My answer? Ask the treating GP and then let me know as we were never told or tested for any of this.

Always question everything When in doubt, ask for more information. If not happy with current care, get another opinion!

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