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Coronary artery disease (CAD)(or atherosclerotic heart disease) is the end result of the accumulation of atheromatous plaques within the walls of the coronary arteries that supply the myocardium (the muscle of the heart) with oxygen and nutrients. It is sometimes also called coronary heart disease (CHD), but although CAD is the most common cause of CHD, it is not the only cause.

CAD is the leading cause of death worldwide. While the symptoms and signs of coronary artery disease are noted in the advanced state of disease, most individuals with coronary artery disease show no evidence of disease for decades as the disease progresses before the first onset of symptoms, often a "sudden" heart attack, finally arises. After decades of progression, some of these atheromatous plaques may rupture and (along with the activation of the blood clotting system) start limiting blood flow to the heart muscle. The disease is the most common cause of sudden death, and is also the most common reason for death of men and women over 20 years of age.According to present trends in the United States, half of healthy 40-year-old males will develop CAD in the future, and one in three healthy 40-year-old women. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Northern Irelandmarker is the country with the most occurrences of CAD. By contrast, the Maasai of Africa have almost no heart disease.

As the degree of coronary artery disease progresses, there may be near-complete obstruction of the lumen of the coronary artery, severely restricting the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the myocardium. Individuals with this degree of coronary artery disease typically have suffered from one or more myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), and may have signs and symptoms of chronic coronary ischemia, including symptoms of angina at rest and flash pulmonary edema.

A distinction should be made between myocardial ischemia and myocardial infarction. Ischemia means that the amount of oxygen supplied to the tissue is inadequate to supply the needs of the tissue. When the myocardium becomes ischemic, it does not function optimally. When large areas of the myocardium becomes ischemic, there can be impairment in the relaxation and contraction of the myocardium. If the blood flow to the tissue is improved, myocardial ischemia can be reversed. Infarction means that the tissue has undergone irreversible death due to lack of sufficient oxygen-rich blood.

An individual may develop a rupture of an atheromatous plaque at any stage of the spectrum of coronary artery disease. The acute rupture of a plaque may lead to an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).


Limitation of blood flow to the heart causes ischemia (cell starvation secondary to a lack of oxygen) of the myocardial cells. Myocardial cells may die from lack of oxygen and this is called a myocardial infarction (commonly called a heart attack). It leads to heart muscle damage, heart muscle death and later myocardial scarring without heart muscle regrowth. Chronic high-grade stenosis of the coronary arteries can induce transient ischemia which leads to the induction of a ventricular arrhythmia, which may terminate into ventricular fibrillation leading to death.

Myocardial infarction usually results from the sudden occlusion of a coronary artery when a plaque ruptures, activating the clotting system and atheroma-clot interaction fills the lumen of the artery to the point of sudden closure. The narrowing of the lumen of the heart artery before sudden closure is often not severe, according to clinical research completed in the late 1990s and using IVUS examinations within 6 months prior to a heart attack. The events leading up to plaque rupture are not understood despite many theories. Myocardial infarction is almost never caused by temporary spasm of the artery wall occluding the lumen, a condition also associated with atheromatous plaque and CAD.

CAD is associated with smoking, diabetes, and hypertension. A family history of early CAD is one of the less important predictors of CAD. Most of the familial association of coronary artery disease are related to common dietary habits. Screening for CAD includes evaluating high-density and low-density lipoprotein (cholesterol) levels and triglyceride levels. Despite much press, most of the alternative risk factors including homocysteine, C-reactive protein (CRP), Lipoprotein (a), coronary calcium and more sophisticated lipid analysis have added little if any additional value to the conventional risk factors of smoking, diabetes and hypertension.


Angina(chest pain) that occurs regularly with activity, after heavy meals, or at other predictable times is termed stable angina and is associated with high grade narrowings of the heart arteries. The symptoms of angina are often treated with betablocker therapy such as metoprolol or atenolol. Nitrate preparations such as nitroglycerin, which come in short-acting and long-acting forms are also effective in relieving symptoms but are not known to reduce the chances of future heart attacks. Many other more effective treatments, especially of the underlying atheromatous disease, have been developed.

Angina that changes in intensity, character or frequency is termed unstable. Unstable angina may precede myocardial infarction, and requires urgent medical attention. It may be treated with oxygen, intravenous nitroglycerin, and aspirin. Interventional procedures such as angioplasty may be done.

Characteristics of coronary artery disease

Special Pathophysiology

Typically, coronary artery disease occurs when part of the smooth, elastic lining inside a coronary artery (the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) develops atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, the artery's lining becomes hardened, stiffened, and swollen with all sorts of "grunge" - including calcium deposits, fatty deposits, and abnormal inflammatory cells - to form a plaque. Deposits of calcium phosphates (hydroxyapatites) in the muscular layer of the blood vessels appear to play not only a significant role in stiffening arteries but also for the induction of an early phase of coronary arteriosclerosis. This can be seen in a so-called metatstatic mechanism of calcification as it occurs in chronic kidney disease and haemodialysis (Rainer Liedtke 2008). Although these patients suffer from a kidney dysfunction, almost fifty percent of them die due to coronary artery disease. Plaques can be thought of as large "pimples" that protrude into the channel of an artery, causing a partial obstruction to blood flow. Patients with coronary artery disease might have just one or two plaques, or might have dozens distributed throughout their coronary arteries. However, there is a term in medicine called “'Cardiac Syndrome X, which describes chest pain (Angina pectoris) and chest discomfort in people who do not show signs of blockages in the larger coronary arteries of their hearts when an angiogram (coronary angiogram) is being performed.

No one knows exactly what causes “Cardiac Syndrome X” and it is unlikely to have a single cause. Today, we speculate that the major contributing factor to “Cardiac Syndrome X” is “'microvascular dysfunction. The term “microvascular” refers to very small blood vessels and, in this case, very small arteries (arterioles, capillaries) of the heart. Studies have also shown that people with “Cardiac Syndrome X” have enhanced pain perception, meaning they feel chest pain more intensely than the average person.

The large majority of women have the garden variety of coronary artery disease. Rarely, women with “Cardiac Syndrome X” have typical anginal syndromes that are not associated with the presence of atherosclerotic plaques; that is, the localized blockages are absent. Scientists speculate that the blood vessels in these women are diffuse abnormal. Some have falsely claim that the entire lining of the artery becomes thickened throughout, making the plaques flush with the wall of the artery without any scientific proof. On cardiac catheterization their coronary arteries appear smooth-walled and normal, though they may look "small" in diameter. By the way: in general, female coronary arteries (like all arteries) are somewhat smaller than in males.
Coronary angiogram of a man
Coronary angiogram of a woman

“Cardiac Syndrome X” have never been shown to cause acute heart attacks (myocardial infarction) despite much speculation. The prognosis with syndrome-X coronary artery disease is also known to be better than with typical coronary artery disease, but this is not a benign condition since it can be quite disabling.It is not completely clear why women are more likely than men to suffer from "Syndrome X"; however, hormones and other risk factors unique to women may play a role. Women’s blood vessels are exposed to changing levels of oestrogen throughout their lives, first during regular menstrual cycles and later during and after menopause as oestrogen levels decline with age. Oestrogen affects how blood vessels narrow and widen and how they respond to injury, so changes in oestrogen levels mean changes in the reactivity of the blood vessels. Women’s vessels may be “programmed” for more changes than men’s vessels, which could increase the risk of having problems in the lining of the arteries (endothelial cells) and the smooth muscle cells in the walls of the arteries.The endothelial dysfunction is likely to be multifactorial in these patients and it is conceivable that risk factors such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus and smoking can contribute to its development. Most patients with Syndrome X are postmenopausal women and oestrogen deficiency has been therefore proposed as a pathogenic factor in female patients. In addition to changing hormone levels, there are several other risk conditions for blood vessel problems that are unique to women, such as preeclampsia (a problem associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy) and delivering a low-birth weight baby. Of course, despite these issues women, the female gender as a whole is protective against coronary artery disease.


Cardiac Syndrome X often is a diagnosis of exclusion where the presence of typical chest pains is not accompanied by coronary artery narrowings on angiography. In considering Syndrome-X, it is important to understand that about 80% of chest pains have nothing to do with the heart. Therefore, the characteristics of typical chest pains must be carefully documented to avoid unnecessary labelling patients with heart disease:

  • Chest pain or Angina with physical stress; the pain may spread to the left arm or the neck, back, throat, or jaw. There might be present a numbness (paresthesia) or a loss of feeling in the arms, shoulders, or wrists.
  • Coronary angiography demonstrates “normal” coronary arteries, i. e. no blockages or stenoses can be detected in the larger epicardial vessels.
  • No inducible coronary artery spasm present during cardiac catheterization.
  • Characteristic ischemic ECG changes during exercise testing.
  • ST segment depression and angina in the presence of left ventricular wall perfusion abnormalities during thallium or other stress perfusion test.
  • Consistent response to sublingual nitrates.
  • Postmenopausal or menopausal status.

The diagnosis of “Cardiac Syndrome X” - the rare coronary artery disease that is more common in women, as mentioned, an “exclusion” diagnosis. Therefore, usually the same tests are used as in any patient with the suspicion of coronary artery disease:


A variety of drugs are used in the attempt to treat the Syndrome-X coronary artery disease: nitrates, calcium channel antagonists, ACE-inhibitors, statins, imipramin (analgesia), aminophylline, hormone replacement therapy (oestrogen), even electrical spinal cord stimulation are tried to overcome the symptomatology -all with mixed results. Quite often the quality of life for these women remains poor.While not enough is known about Syndrome-X coronary artery disease to list specific prevention techniques, adopting heart-healthy habits can be a good start. These include monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure levels, maintaining a low-fat diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, avoiding recreational drugs, and moderating alcohol intake. However, there might be a new option for women suffering from “Cardiac Syndrome X”: Protein based Angiogenesis. This new protein-based angiogenic therapy - using fibroblast growth factor 1 (FGF-1) - might be used as sole therapy as well as adjunct to bypass surgery – thus overcoming the limitations of conventional bypass surgery.
Neo-angiogenesis in a woman's heart after FGF-1 treatment
Beyond drug therapy, interventional procedures, and coronary artery bypass grafting, angiogenesis now offers a new, specific and – so far as we know from three human clinical trials – effective treatment targeted for women’s coronary artery disease.

Risk factors

The following are confirmed independent risk factors for the development of CAD:
  1. Hypercholesterolemia (specifically, serum LDL concentrations)
  2. Smoking
  3. Hypertension (high systolic pressure seems to be most significant in this regard)
  4. Hyperglycemia (due to diabetes mellitus or otherwise)
  5. Type A Behavioural Patterns, TABP. Added in 1981 as an independent risk factor after a majority of research into the field discovered that TABP's were twice as likely to exhibit CAD than any other personality type.
  6. Hemostatic Factors: High levels of fibrinogen and coagulation factor VII are associated with an increased risk of CAD. Factor VII levels are higher in individuals with a high intake of dietary fat. Decreased fibrinolytic activity has been reported in patients with coronary atherosclerosis.
  7. Hereditary differences in such diverse aspects as lipoprotein structure and that of their associated receptors, homocysteine processing/metabolism, etc.
  8. High levels of Lp(a):

What is Lp(a)?When LDL cholesterol combines with a substance known as Apoliprotein (a), the result is a compound known as Lp(a), or "ugly" cholesterol. Lp(a) is called ugly cholesterol because evidence from some research studies shows that in high levels, it can increase a person's risk of heart attack or stroke, even if cholesterol levels are otherwise "desirable." Lp(a) is measured through a blood sample and can be tested as part of a lipoprotein panel.

Genetics determines your levels of Lp(a) and even the size of the Lp(a) molecule itself. Lifestyle changes do not alter levels of Lp(a); instead, levels for most people tend to remain consistent over a lifetime except for women, who will experience a slight rise in levels with menopause. Some physicians request testing of Lp(a) for patients who have a strong family history of premature heart disease or hypercholesterolemia. It can be a valuable test, particularly when other types of cholesterol are at healthy levels, yet concern exists that heart disease is developing. Physicians will typically order this test if a patient has had a heart attack or stroke, yet cholesterol levels fall within a "healthy" category.

Treatment for elevated Lp(a) includes niacin therapy. Some experts believe that antioxidanttherapy is also useful. People with high levels of Lp(a) benefit by concentrating their efforts OR lowering LDL levels since at lower levels, it is harder for LDL particles to attach to plaque buildup. Lowering LDL levels ultimately lowers the level of risk.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2003, researchers found that elevated levels of Lp(a) among healthy men age sixty-five years and older are predictive of the risk of stroke and death. Study participants with the highest levels of Lp(a) were more likely to experience a stroke and were 76 percent more likely to die than men with the lowest levels. These researchers support the use of Lp(a) testing as a screening tool to measure the risk of stroke and heart disease in older men.

Significant, but indirect risk factors include:

Risk factors can be classified as
  1. Fixed: age, sex, family history
  2. Modifiable: smoking, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, etc.


Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in the Western world. Prevention centers on the modifiable risk factors, which include decreasing cholesterol levels, addressing obesity and hypertension, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, making healthy dietary choices, and stopping smoking. There is some evidence that lowering homocysteine levels may contribute to more heart attacks (NORVIT trial). In diabetes mellitus, there is little evidence that very tight blood sugar control actually improves cardiac risk although improved sugar control appears to decrease other undesirable problems like kidney failure and blindness. Some recommend a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends "low to moderate alcohol intake" to reduce risk of coronary artery disease although this remains without scientific cause and effect proof.

An increasingly growing number of other physiological markers and homeostatic mechanisms are currently under scientific investigation. Patients with CAD and those trying to prevent CAD are advised to avoid fats that are readily oxidized (e.g., saturated fats and trans-fats), limit carbohydrates and processed sugars to reduce production of Low density lipoproteins, triacylglycerol and apolipoprotein-B.

It is also important to keep blood pressure normal, exercise and stop smoking. These measures reduces the development of heart attacks. Recent studies have shown that dramatic reduction in LDL levels can cause regression of coronary artery disease in as many as 2/3 of patients after just one year of sustained treatment.

Menaquinone (Vitamin K2), but not phylloquinone (Vitamin K1), intake is associated with reduced risk of CAD mortality, all-cause mortality and severe aortic calcification.

CAD has always been a tough disease to diagnose without the use of invasive or stressful activities. The development of the Multifunction Cardiogram (MCG) has changed the way CAD is diagnosed. The MCG consists of a 2 lead resting EKG signal is transformed into a mathematical model and compared against tens of thousands of clinical trials to diagnose a patient with an objective severity score, as well as secondary and tertiary results about the patients condition. The results from MCG tests have been validated in 8 clinical trials which resulted in a database of over 50,000 patients where the system has demonstrated accuracy comparable to coronary angiography (90% overall sensitivity, 85% specificity).This level of accuracy comes from the application of advanced techniques in signal processing and systems analysis combined with a large scale clinical database which allows MCG to provide quantitative, evidence-based results to assist physicians in reaching a diagnosis. The MCG has also been awarded a Category III CPT code by the American Medical Association in the July 2009 CPT update.


Separate to the question of the benefits of exercise; it is unclear whether doctors should spend time counseling patients to exercise. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), based on a systematic review of randomized controlled trials, found 'insufficient evidence' to recommend that doctors counsel patients on exercise, but "it did not review the evidence for the effectiveness of physical activity to reduce chronic disease, morbidity and mortality", it only examined the effectiveness of the counseling itself. However, the American Heart Association, based on a non-systematic review, recommends that doctors counsel patients on exercise.

Exercise and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Major Recommendations

Preventive diets

It has been suggested that coronary artery disease is partially reversible using an intense dietary regimen coupled with regular cardio exercise.

  • Vegetarian diet: Vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% reduced risk of dying of heart disease.

  • Cretan Mediterranean diet: The Seven Country Study found that Cretanmarker men had exceptionally low death rates from heart disease, despite moderate to high intake of fat. The Cretan diet is similar to other traditional Mediterranean diets: consisting mostly of olive oil, bread, abundant fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of wine and fat-rich animal products such as lamb, sausage and goat cheese. However, the Cretan diet consisted of less fish and wine consumption than some other Mediterranean-style diets, such as the diet in Corfumarker, another region of Greece, which had higher death rates.

The consumption of trans fat (commonly found in hydrogenated products such as margarine) has been shown to cause the development of endothelial dysfunction, a precursor to atherosclerosis. The consumption of trans fatty acids has been shown to increase the risk of coronary artery disease

Foods containing fiber, potassium, nitric oxide (in green leafy vegetables), monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saponins, or lecithin are said to lower cholesterol levels. Foods high in grease, salt, trans fat, or saturated fat are said to raise cholesterol levels.


Aspirin, in doses of less than 75 to 81 mg/d, can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force 'strongly recommends that clinicians discuss aspirin chemoprevention with adults who are at increased risk for coronary artery disease'. The Task Force defines increased risk as 'Men older than 40 years of age, postmenopausal women, and younger persons with risk factors for coronary artery disease (for example, hypertension, diabetes, or smoking) are at increased risk for heart disease and may wish to consider aspirin therapy'. More specifically, high-risk persons are 'those with a 5-year risk ≥ 3%'. A risk calculator is available.

Regarding healthy women, the more recent Women's Health Study randomized controlled trial found insignificant benefit from aspirin in the reduction of cardiac events; however there was a significant reduction in stroke. Subgroup analysis showed that all benefit was confined to women over 65 years old. In spite of the insignificant benefit for women <65 years="" old,="" recent="" practice guidelines by the American Heart Association recommend to 'consider' aspirin in 'healthy women' <65 years="" of="" age="" 'when="" benefit="" for="" ischemic="" stroke="" prevention="" is="" likely="" to="" outweigh="" adverse="" effects="" therapy'.=""></65>

Omega-3 fatty acids

The benefit of fish oil is controversial with conflicting conclusions reached by a negative meta-analysis on studies using traditional omega-3 products of randomized controlled trials by the international Cochrane Collaboration and a partially positive systematic review

AHRQ Evidence reports and summaries 94. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cardiovascular Disease by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Since these two reviews, a randomized controlled trial reported a remarkable reduction on coronary events in Japanese hypercholesterolemic patients, and a later subanalysis suggested that the protective effect of highly purified EPA (E-EPA) is even more pronounced in Japanese diabetics even though their intake of fish is high.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in some plant sources including flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, and walnuts. The plant omega-3 (ALA) is biologically inferior to marine omega-3, as ALA needs to be converted in the liver to EPA, but only about five per cent is converted.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention is preventing further sequelae of already established disease. Regarding coronary artery disease, this can mean risk factor management that is carried out during cardiac rehabilitation, a 4-phase process beginning in hospital after MI, angioplasty or heart surgery and continuing for a minimum of three months. Exercise is a main component of cardiac rehabilitation along with diet, smoking cessation, and blood pressure and cholesterol management. Beta blockers may also be used for this purpose.

Anti-platelet therapy

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by the international Cochrane Collaboration found "that the use of clopidogrel plus aspirin is associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events compared with aspirin alone in patients with acute non-ST coronary syndrome. In patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease but not presenting acutely, there is only weak evidence of benefit and hazards of treatment almost match any benefit obtained.".

Therapy - Principles of Treatment

Therapeutic options for coronary artery disease today are based on three principles:
  • 1. Medical treatment - drugs (e.g. cholesterol lowering medications, beta-blockers, nitroglycerin, calcium antagonists, etc.);
  • 2. Coronary interventions as angioplasty and coronary stent-implantation;
  • 3. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG - coronary artery bypass surgery).
Recent research efforts focus on new angiogenic treatment modalities (angiogenesis) and various (adult) stem cell therapies.

Recent research

A 2006 study by the Cleveland Clinicmarker found a region on Chromosome 17 was confined to families with multiple cases of myocardial infarction.

A more controversial link is that between Chlamydophila pneumoniae infection and atherosclerosis. While this intracellular organism has been demonstrated in atherosclerotic plaques, evidence is inconclusive as to whether it can be considered a causative factor. Treatment with antibiotics in patients with proven atherosclerosis has not demonstrated a decreased risk of heart attacks or other coronary vascular diseases.

Since the 1990s the search for new treatment options for coronary artery disease patients, particularly for so called "no-option" coronary patients, focused on usage of angiogenesis and (adult) stem cell therapies. Numerous clinical trials were performed, either applying protein (angiogenic growth factor) therapies, such as FGF-1 or VEGF, or cell therapies using different kinds of adult stem cell populations. Research is still going on - with first promising results particularly for FGF-1 and utilization of endothelial progenitor cells.


Ayurveda has got its won understanding for cardiac diseases.It considers all the diseases as a result of imbalance between the doshas (basic body humors). Mostly cardiac diseases included under CAD are due to vitiation of Vata and Kapha dosha.Vatika hrudroga has got a better similarity with these. Acharya Sushruta had described hrucchula a conditio of severe pain in the cardiac region, it mostly resembles the angina pectoris. Ayurveda too emphasizes on the preventive as well as curative aspect. As discussed above the risk factors mostly due to the lifestyle changes, stress and strain in the life play a important role in the patogenessis of the disease. Hence adopting the daily regimens and seasonal regimen detailed by ayurvedic texts, yoga-pranayama, dhyana and asana can improve the body circulation and also atherosclerotic conditions.

In treatment aspect it needs to evaluate the cause of the diseases and according to mostly two kind of approaches are followed . 1. If it is associated with santarpana (hyper nutrition?) a shodhana(elimination) therapy with mild emesis and purgation is adopted and later given the shamana (pacification therapy).2. In apatarpanaja (emaciated?) patients directly shamana is adopted. The pacification includes various drugs include sringa bhashma, Puskaramuladi decoction, Hingwadi powder etc. A rasayana therapy with drugs like rasona(garlic),guggulu and shilajatu can also given after a shodhana. Drugs like arjuna(Terminalia arjuna), Puskaramula (Inula racemosa)have been clinically as well as experimentally evaluated to have good effect in these conditions.

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