Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the coronary arteries are narrowed by deposits called plaques.

The coronary arteries originate from the aorta and supply blood and oxygen to your heart muscle allowing it pump blood to the body. Normal coronary arteries allow blood to flow freely. However, these arteries can become narrowed by inflammatory fatty deposits called plaques. This disease process is called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis that occurs in the coronary arteries is called coronary artery disease.

These plaques build up over time and can decrease the amount of oxygen reaching your heart. Mild coronary artery disease may develop over decades without any symptoms. More severe coronary artery disease can cause chest pain, called angina, and shortness of breath.

If a plaque suddenly ruptures, a blood clot can form and block the heart’s blood supply. This is called a heart attack and it can cause permanent damage to the heart. Over time, severe coronary artery disease can also weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure or cause arrhythmias, an abnormal heartbeat.

Figure 1: Coronary artery anatomy:
1. Right coronary artery (RCA)
2. Posterior descending artery
3. Left main artery
4. Left circumflex artery
5. Left anterior descending artery (LAD).

Figure 2: Coronary artery disease with enlarged view of a narrowed artery.

Figure 3: Normal lining of a coronary artery.

Figure 4: Stable and unstable atherosclerotic plaques. 1. Thin fibrous cap. 3. Thick fibrous cap. 2. Large fatty core. 4. Thin fatty core


Visit Houston Cardiovascular Institute Website for more information.