Coronary Artery Disease

The heart supplies the body – and itself – with blood through a set of vessels called the coronary arteries. Coronary arteries sometimes narrow from a buildup of cholesterol or fat called plaque.

When that happens, the heart muscle does not get enough blood to continue working, which can lead to chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, and heart attack (myocardial infarction). This is called coronary artery disease.

Over time, coronary artery disease can weaken a heart, leading to abnormal heart rates, also called arrhythmia, or to heart failure, a situation where the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body.

Factors that can contribute to coronary artery disease include family history, gender, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of exercise. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S.

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

Coronary artery disease can develop over time, so it could go undetected until the blockage increases to a severe degree and you have a heart attack.

Symptoms of coronary artery disease include:

Chest pain
Feels like the heart is being “squeezed” with pain radiating to left chest, back, and arm
Shortness of breath
Often accompanied by swollen feet and ankles; signs of congestive heart failure
Unusual heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
Chest discomfort, palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath

Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease

Your doctor might perform several tests to determine if you have coronary artery disease.

Common diagnostic tests include:

Shows how wide or narrow the artery is, using contrast dye
Shows the heart's internal structures by inserting a long, thin tube into the artery through a vein, usually in the leg
Bounces sound waves from the chest to the heart to create a moving picture of the heart
Tests the electrical signals of the heart rate and the heart rhythm to detect abnormal blood flow to the heart
Exercise stress test
Studies the heart function at increasing levels of demand

Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease

Treatment of coronary artery disease may include lifestyle changes, medication, and/or medical procedures. Options include:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Exercise
  • Lose weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce sodium intake and eat a healthy diet


  • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure
  • Aspirin, abciximab, or heparin to reduce risk of blood clots by thinning the blood
  • Beta-blockers to decrease heart rate and blood pressure
  • Calcium channel blockers to relax artery tone
  • Nitrates to improve heart blood supply


  • Coronary angioplasty – a long, thin tube inserted through a vein into the narrowed part of an artery; a balloon is inflated at the point of narrowing to open the artery
  • Coronary stenting – a narrow metal tube inserted inside the coronary artery to keep it open
  • Laser-assisted angioplasty – similar to a coronary balloon angioplasty, but using a laser-tipped catheter instead of a balloon to open the artery
  • Surgery:

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a coronary artery disease specialist at UT Southwestern's facilities in Dallas or for more information about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.