Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by a buildup of plaque — a fatty substance — inside your coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart with oxygen-rich blood.

How to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Damage | El Camino Health

How to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Damage

The buildup of plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis, which takes many years to develop. Over time, the plaque can harden or rupture and form a blood clot, both of which can reduce blood flow to your heart, causing a heart attack — the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. Over time, CAD can weaken your heart muscle and lead to heart failure and arrhythmias.

Many of the risk factors for CAD are preventable, so it's important to take action now before it causes serious health complications.

  • Eat heart healthy. Choose a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Minimize your intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. 
  • Control your weight and exercise regularly. If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about a diet and exercise program that's right for you. Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active will improve your overall health and lower your risk of all types of heart disease.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages blood vessels and increases your risk of cardiovascular and other types of disease. Also, try to avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Know your family health history. If someone in your family has had heart problems, tell your doctor. The more information you can provide, the better your doctor can help you maintain good health.

The Norma Melchor Heart & Vascular Institute at El Camino Health offers a variety of programs to help you lower your risk of heart disease. Whether you need help to eat right, quit smoking or manage stress, our classes and programs can help.


A number of CAD risk factors are controllable with simple lifestyle changes. Incorporate these heart-healthy habits into your life and you can help prevent or delay coronary artery disease:


The symptoms of CAD will depend on how much plaque has built up inside your arteries — the more narrowed your arteries are, the less blood flow to your heart, which can make symptoms more pronounced.

The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort, called angina. It can feel like pressure or a squeezing sensation in your chest or in your arms, shoulders, back, jaw or neck. Angina can also feel like indigestion. The pain usually gets worse with activity or emotional stress and goes away with rest.


At El Camino Health, our heart care experts use a variety of sophisticated techniques to diagnose CAD, including:

  • Angiography – A test that uses MRI or CT technology to create detailed pictures of your heart and vascular system.
  • Echocardiogram – A test that uses ultrasound (sound waves) to create moving pictures of your heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) – A test that records your heart's electrical activity.
  • HeartFlow® Analysis – A noninvasive test that creates a personalized 3D model of your coronary arteries.
  • Stress testing – A test that measures your heart's pumping ability when it's working hard.

In many instances, making the same lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease is the only treatment that’s necessary. When CAD is more advanced, your doctor may recommend additional therapies to manage your condition, including:

  • Medicines. Medications can help reduce your heart's workload, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, and prevent blood clots. Your doctor will determine which medicines are right for you.
  • Minimally invasive treatments. At El Camino Health, our heart and vascular specialists use the least invasive treatments whenever possible. They often use catheter-based techniques, such as angioplasty and stenting, which only require a small incision.
  • Advanced surgery. Our heart surgeons have the expertise to provide the most advanced surgical procedures — including beating-heart surgery, which can offer you a lower risk of complications, a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery.

To help you recover, we offer comprehensive rehabilitative care through our Cardiac & Pulmonary Wellness Center. Our rehabilitation specialists develop a personalized recovery plan to help you resume the activities you enjoy.