Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease, and is caused by narrowing of the arteries, which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke occurring.
High levels of LDL-cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) are a key factor in the development of CAD because they can lead to the accumulation of fatty deposits in artery walls (atherosclerosis), making the arteries narrower and stiffer. Low levels of HDL-cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol) may also be involved. Cholesterol levels in the blood depend on dietary factors (e.g. the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol consumed) and the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the body (which may involve genetic factors).
Other factors that may contribute to the development of CAD include:
- High blood pressure (which may be a consequence of medical problems, but is more often due to lifestyle issues, including being obese, being physically inactive, and eating a high salt diet).
- High triglyceride levels (high levels of fat in the blood)
- High levels of a compound called homocysteine
- Being overweight
- Getting older
- Being diabetic
- Having a personal or family history of heart problems
- Leading an inactive lifestyle
Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes unable to effectively perform its functions, is a serious consequence of CAD. As heart function declines, fluid accumulates in the abdomen, legs, and lungs, causing the characteristic symptoms of fatigue, oedema and breathlessness.