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Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) Facts

How the heart works

The heart is an amazing organ. This fist-sized muscle beats over 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood every day. The heart is at the center of the circulatory system, which is also made up of arteries, veins, and capillaries. It has four chambers, divided by a muscular wall.


The left and right atria receive blood from the veins, while the left and right ventricles pump blood back into the arteries. The atria and ventricles work together by alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through your heart. The coronary arteries supply your heart with the oxygen and nutrient-rich blood it needs to do its work.

What is coronary artery disease?

Heart Muscle

Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart become damaged and narrowed. This can happen when plaque—made up of substances found in your blood including fat, cholesterol, and calcium—builds up inside these arteries. When too much plaque builds up, it causes a condition called atherosclerosis, in which blood flow to the heart is reduced. If blood flow is completely blocked, it can result in a heart attack.

How CAD fits within the heart disease continuum

It's important to protect your heart, including getting tested if you have risk factors for CAD and getting treatment if you need it. Heart disease can progress over time, a process that is sometimes called the heart disease continuum. Learn more about the heart disease continuum.

Taking preventative measures to improve your health at any point along this continuum can alter the progression of heart disease. This means that if you have risk factors for CAD, have been diagnosed with CAD, or have had a heart attack, you can still work to improve your health, and may even be able to prevent CAD or a future heart attack from occurring if you take the proper steps. This can require treatment and monitoring, along with changes to your lifestyle.

The first step is being aware of any risk factors you may have. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. You are also at risk if you smoke or are overweight or obese. If you have any of these risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor so you can take steps to help prevent CAD. Learn more about CAD risk factors.

How many Americans are affected by CAD?

CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 81,100,000 American adults have one or more types of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, there is much you can do to control CAD once it has been diagnosed.

What populations are prone to CAD?

CAD doesn't discriminate. It can affect both men and women of any ethnic background. But certain factors can increase your risk for this condition, including the following:

  • Age: Heart problems become more of a risk as you get older. About 1 in 6 Americans age 65 and older has CAD. After age 65, the likelihood that a person will develop CAD increases every year.
  • Sex: Men are more prone to CAD than women, but the risk for women increases after menopause, and heart disease is still the number one killer of women in the United States.
  • Hereditary and ethnic background: If heart disease runs in your family, you have an increased risk of developing it as well. People of certain ethnic backgrounds also have a higher likelihood of developing CAD. African Americans have a higher incidence of high blood pressure and are at greater risk of developing heart disease. Mexican Americans and Native Americans are also at a higher risk for developing CAD.

Learn more about the risk factors and causes of CAD.

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