Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death from heart disease. The condition occurs when plaque, made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fatty deposits, builds up inside heart artery walls. This hardening, or clogging, of the arteries (called atherosclerosis) restricts blood flow to the heart.

Types of coronary artery disease

There are various types of coronary artery disease, including:

Obstructive coronary artery disease

This happens when arteries that supply the heart with blood gradually begin to narrow or become blocked due to plaque buildup.

Nonobstructive coronary artery disease

This occurs when the arteries develop problems, such as inappropriate constriction, malfunctions in the branches, damaged lining, or squeezing from overlying heart muscle.

Small vessel disease

Also referred to as microvascular coronary artery disease, this is a condition where the walls of the small arteries in the heart aren’t working properly.

Signs and symptoms

People with coronary artery disease may have chest pain, known as angina. Other coronary artery disease symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, weakness, pain or discomfort in the arms, and decreased exercise tolerance. A complete or very severe blockage can cause a heart attack.


Coronary artery disease often begins with damage or injury to the inner layer of a coronary artery. This can start as early as childhood. Various factors can cause this damage, such as:

  • Smoking.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.

Risk factors

Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:

  • Aging.
  • Genetics.
  • Smoking.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Obesity.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • High levels of stress.
  • Unhealthy diet.


Making healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. To improve your heart health, you can:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Manage stress.

Complications, prognosis, and living with coronary artery disease

If you have coronary artery disease, you can improve your quality of life and live longer with determination and dedication to making healthier choices. One of the best ways to improve your condition is by eating a healthy diet. This means avoiding foods saturated in trans fats, high cholesterol, and salt. Other ways to improve your diet include:

  • Portion control.
  • Incorporating more fruits and vegetables.
  • Eating lean protein, such as chicken and fish.

Diagnosing coronary artery disease

The Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute is a national leader in using advanced diagnostic technology and minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat heart disease.

Our physicians use the latest imaging methods to determine the cause, severity, and prognosis of your heart condition. You may undergo one or more of these coronary artery disease tests:

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

This noninvasive test assesses your heart’s electrical activity.

Stress test

A stress test assesses changes in your heart during exertion compared with rest. A nuclear stress test, or single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), uses injectable radioactive tracers to show blood flow to the heart during exertion and rest.

Echocardiogram (echo)

This ultrasound test uses high-frequency sound waves to produce real-time images of the heart and its pumping action.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

This heart scan uses an injectable radioactive substance called a tracer to display blood flow to your heart and check for blockages.

Computed tomography angiogram (CTA)

A series of X-rays taken from different angles after injection of contrast dye into a vein in the arm produce detailed images of the heart arteries.

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This cardiac imaging scan uses strong magnets to create detailed images of the heart in motion. Learn more about cardiovascular imaging.

Cardiac catheterization

Your physician threads a long, thin tube (catheter) to the heart and uses contrast dye to locate blockages.

Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS)

This test uses a small ultrasound wand attached to a catheter to capture images from inside the blood vessels.

Treating coronary artery disease and angina

The AHN Cardiovascular Institute offers a wide range of treatments for coronary artery disease. We’re experts at using highly complex procedures for people with difficult-to-treat heart problems. Treatments include:

Medication management 

Medicines to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as blood thinners, can improve blood flow and relieve chest pain. Medications may include beta blockers, aspirin, calcium channel blockers, cholesterol-modifying medications, ranolazine, and more.

Interventional procedures

Your physician may recommend a catheter-based procedure, such as coronary angioplasty and stenting or a complex coronary intervention.

Surgical procedures

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, or heart bypass surgery, diverts blood flow around a narrowed or blocked artery.

Contact us


If you have not been formally diagnosed yet, call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment with a general cardiologist to be evaluated.

Scheduling a procedure

If you have a referral and would like to schedule a procedure, call (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348.