Protecting the arteries that keep your blood flowing smoothly
Your arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood that keeps your heart beating strong. Our heart team is here to keep your arteries healthy, so your heart beats stronger, longer.
What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (also called CAD) is the most common type of heart disease —and the #1 killer of men and women in the U.S. The good news? When it’s caught early, it’s highly treatable.
CAD happens when plaque builds up in the arteries around the heart, causing them to harden and become narrow. This can interrupt your heart’s blood or oxygen supply. Left untreated, this can cause a blockage in an artery — increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
What are symptoms of coronary artery disease?
If you’re living with coronary artery disease, you might not notice the early symptoms. And women usually take longer than men to experience symptoms — up to 10 additional years.
Some common signs of coronary artery disease, also known as atherosclerosis, can include:
- Chest pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?
Certain behaviors, risk factors and genetics can increase your chances of developing coronary artery disease. These include:
- Smoking: Tobacco is linked to causing blockages and narrowing of the arteries, which means restricted blood and oxygen flow.
- High cholesterol: Nearly 34 million Americans have higher than normal cholesterol. Having high cholesterol levels, especially LDL or “bad” cholesterol, increases your risk for coronary artery disease.
- High blood pressure: One-third of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can lead to narrowed arteries. Hypertension not only increases your risk of having a heart attack but also a stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.
- Physical inactivity: Living a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for coronary artery disease and other types of heart disease. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can greatly reduce it.
- Diabetes: Those with Type 2 diabetes have a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease compared to those who don’t have the condition.
- Being overweight: People who have excess body fat — especially around the waist area — have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease.
- Family history: If you have a family member who’s been diagnosed with heart disease prematurely (before age 55 for men or age 65 for women), you have a greater risk for developing a heart condition.
- Age: Your risk of developing hardening of the arteries increases with age.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase the risk of coronary artery disease include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Having an autoimmune disease
How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
Because CAD symptoms may not appear until the disease has progressed, it’s important to listen to your body and practice heart-healthy habits.
We offer screening tests that use the most advanced technology to better detect coronary artery disease in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable. Some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to test for CAD include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your heart’s electrical activity.
- Chest X-ray – This allows your doctor to see the condition of your lungs and heart, and potentially rule out other causes of your symptoms.
- Echocardiogram – A wand-like device, placed on your chest, uses sound waves to create a video of your heart working.
- Cardiac catheterization – During this minimally invasive procedure, a long, thin tube is inserted into your heart for diagnostic testing and to check for any blockages. Many people are able to remain awake during the procedure.
- Stress test – This test involves monitoring your heart while you exercise.
At Geisinger, our team of highly trained cardiology specialists will assess your heart issue and develop a personalized plan around you.
Depending on your condition, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended:
This procedure restores the heart’s blood flow by opening blocked arteries. During an angioplasty, a thin tube (called a catheter) with a tiny balloon is inserted into a blood vessel in your arm or groin. The tube is then threaded to the artery, where the balloon inflates to gently widen the artery, so blood can flow.
Treatment may also include a heart stent procedure. When an artery becomes narrowed due to fatty buildup, a small wire tube (called a stent) can be inserted to keep the artery open, reducing the risk of a heart attack.
We’ll explore all treatment options to offer you the best outcome and path for healing. However, sometimes heart surgery may be recommended.
Should you need a heart procedure, our heart surgeons use the latest techniques to treat heart conditions, including minimally invasive surgery. Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they’ve passed a national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cardiac surgery.
The following surgeries are commonly performed to open a blocked artery or arteries.
- Heart bypass surgery – Officially called coronary artery bypass grafting (and commonly shortened to CABG), this surgery treats severe coronary artery disease. In CABG, a healthy artery that your body can spare is attached to the blocked coronary artery. This creates a graft that bypasses the blockage, allowing blood to flow to your heart again.
Your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes to begin to undo damage caused by heart disease. These may include:
- Quitting smoking
- Changing your diet
- Losing weight
- Reducing stress
- Emotional support
Coronary artery disease care at Geisinger
Our team is dedicated to providing you with compassionate care and advanced treatments to keep your heart healthy.
- The knowledge you need – Your heart team includes surgeons, doctors and specialists with years of training and experience. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with heart disease every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
- Excellent care where you live – With locations throughout central, northeast and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced heart team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Fastest heart attack care in the region – Left untreated, a blocked coronary artery can result in a heart attack. If this happens, you’ll need a procedure called an angioplasty. We consistently top the national average for "door to balloon" time, or the time between your arrival at our hospital and this life-saving treatment. The quicker you’re treated, the less damage to the heart and the better the chance for recovery.
- Women’s heart health specialists – Our team of experts pursues breakthroughs and research that will impact the future of women’s heart health.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs, such as MyCode®, are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. Some participants may also receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.