How fast does coronary artery disease progress and can it be slowed down?

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Written by: Jennifer

Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary heart disease (CHD), is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to and from the heart develop a buildup of fatty deposits. This buildup is called plaque, or atherosclerosis. It causes blood vessels to narrow, which reduces the blood flow to and from the heart. If left untreated, CAD can lead to serious cardiovascular events like a heart attack. The speed with which this buildup accumulates and the progression of coronary artery disease are unpredictable.

How fast does coronary artery disease progress?

How fast coronary artery disease progresses varies from person to person, and it doesn’t always progress in a linear fashion. CAD often begins at a young age and develops without clinical events for years before symptoms arise. When coronary artery disease does become symptomatic, sufferers are usually middle-aged or older.

A number of factors can affect the rate of coronary artery disease progression, including some that are within your control and others that aren’t. The main risk factors which affect the onset and progression of CAD in both men and women are:

  • Genetics: If you have relatives who have suffered from CAD, you’re more likely to develop the condition yourself.
  • Lifestyle: Factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and a diet high in saturated and trans fats (those that increase your LDL cholesterol), and sugar can hasten the onset and progression of CAD.
  • Age: As coronary arteries age, they naturally become more susceptible to plaque buildup.
  • Underlying health conditions: Certain health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, can increase the risk of CAD and affect its progression.

What are the symptoms of CAD?

Coronary artery disease can cause a number of symptoms. The most frequent signs of CAD are chest pain and discomfort (angina). This is because of the narrowed coronary arteries’ inability to get enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Because the heart pumps blood around the body, the symptoms of CAD are also felt in other parts of the body. People often find that their CAD symptoms worsen with strenuous activity and when they are under emotional stress.

Other symptoms of CAD include:

  • Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath, especially when you’re not doing any strenuous physical activity, can mean the heart isn’t getting enough blood.
  • Fatigue: Unexplained fatigue or feeling tired all the time can also be a symptom of CAD as the heart muscle isn’t able to pump blood as efficiently as it should.
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed: CAD can result in not enough oxygenated blood reaching the brain, which can cause dizziness and light-headedness.
  • Weakness and cramping: When the heart isn’t pumping enough blood to the rest of the body, you might experience weakness or feel cramps in your muscles.
  • Nausea: Feeling nauseous can also be a sign that not enough oxygenated blood is reaching the stomach, and the cause may be CAD.
  • Cold sweats: Sweating more than normal, especially when you’re not doing any physical activity and it’s not hot, can be a sign of CAD.

Some of the above symptoms can also be warning signs of a heart attack (see this American Heart Association resource for more information).

Can you slow down the progression of coronary artery disease?

Thankfully, there are things that can be done to slow the progression of coronary artery disease:

  • Manage underlying health conditions: Keeping any other health conditions under control, especially those known to worsen CAD, will improve your overall health and can help to slow the progression of CAD.
  • Reduce cholesterol: Making healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, can help to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce this risk factor.
  • Medication: There are a number of different medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, that physicians prescribe to slow the accumulation of plaque in the arteries — the progression of coronary atherosclerosis.
  • Stop smoking: If you smoke, quitting is usually the best thing you can do to reduce the symptoms and decelerate the progression of coronary artery disease.
  • Exercise: Exercise is crucial in maintaining cardiovascular health, and it can help to slow the progression of CAD. Physical exercise improves heart health especially if you suffer from depression and anxiety, according to an article published by the American College of Cardiology. If you’re unable to exercise, you can get the benefits of exercise from therapies such as Flow Therapy. 

Coronary artery disease and Flow Therapy

Flow Therapy is a non-invasive treatment option for a variety of chronic heart conditions, including CAD. Also known as Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP), Flow Therapy uses advanced counter pulsation technology synced to the patient’s heartbeat. The treatment involves placing inflatable cuffs around the legs and inflating and deflating them in sequence. This mimics the effects of exercise, without the patient having to do any strenuous physical activity.

The sequential inflation of the cuffs helps move blood around the body and increases the volume of oxygenated blood to the heart. In turn, this can help to slow the progression of CAD by reducing its symptoms and improving the overall function of the heart. Because Flow Therapy is non-invasive and doesn’t involve any medication, it can be used in conjunction with other treatments and in addition to regular exercise.

To learn more about Flow Therapy and how it can help improve your cardiovascular health, check for a Flow Therapy location closest to you.

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