Signs & Symptoms Heart & Vascular

Coronary Artery Disease
Signs and Symptoms

The most common disease of the coronary arteries is arteriosclerosis, commonly called "hardening of the arteries." Plaque — a combination of cholesterol and other fats, calcium and other elements carried in the blood — builds up in the small blood vessels that feed the heart. When this condition exists in other parts of the body, it is called atherosclerosis.

This plaque buildup can, in time, narrow the arteries so severely that blood flow to the heart is inadequate and symptoms of insufficient blood flow — called angina — develop. Angina is a term meaning strangling or oppressive heaviness and pain, but it has become synonymous with angina pectoris or chest pain caused by lack of oxygen to the heart due to poor blood supply.

In addition to angina or chest pain, arteriosclerosis can produce fatigue, shortness of breath and an abnormal heart beat or arrhythmia. Plaque also can tear the artery walls and form blood clots that can lead to a heart attack. Often, there are no symptoms of arteriosclerosis until a heart attack occurs.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.