Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital
Part of Ramsay Health Care

Coronary artery disease: causes, treatments and prevention

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in Australia. So what is this deadly disease, how is it treated and what can be done to prevent it? Dr. Daljeet Gill explains.

The deadliest disease on the planet

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, coronary artery disease (also known as ischemic heart disease) is the number one cause of death on Earth. In Australia, it was responsible for 12.4% (19,777) of the 159,052 deaths in 2015. In that same year, it caused 8.76 million deaths worldwide.

The disease is caused by a buildup of a fatty material called plaque in the arteries of the heart. This buildup causes the arteries to narrow, which in turn can reduce blood and oxygen flow to the heart. The result of this can be catastrophic, causing complications ranging from angina (serious chest pains) through to a heart attack and death.

What causes coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is a very common disorder affecting both men and women, although men are twice as likely as women to die from it.

A number of causes can lead to cholesterol buildup, including:

  • Long-standing high blood pressure
  • Sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
  • High cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Smoking

Treating these risk factors is very important in reducing the chances of a heart attack, even if you have had one before.

How is coronary artery disease treated?

Drugs used to treat coronary artery disease include ‘blood thinners’ like aspirin and cholesterol lowering medication called statins. Aside from drugs, heart attacks can also be treated through surgery, using balloons and stents to unblock heart arteries that are tightly narrowed or have been blocked by a clot.

Occasionally, patients with coronary artery narrowings and blockages will be treated with a surgery called a coronary artery bypass graft. This is where an artery or vein from another part of the body is used to divert blood around a blockage in the heart arteries.

Preventing coronary artery disease

Prevention is always better than cure. Avoiding smoking, fatty foods, stress and a sedentary lifestyle will all help to prevent coronary artery disease.

Healthy eating, such as the healthy heart diet, Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, in conjunction with regular exercise is the single best way to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease and improve your overall health.

Author: Dr. Daljeet Gill, Cardiologist

Hands holding heart