Coronary artery disease happens when your coronary arteries become narrowed and reduce the blood flow to the heart muscle. It is extremely common, and is the main cause of death in Australia for both men and women.

Coronary arteries are like small pipes that supply the heart with blood. They can become narrowed by the accumulation of cholesterol within their walls. This fatty material is called plaque, and the process of plaque building up is called atherosclerosis. This can start when you are young and may be well advanced by middle age.

Coronary artery disease is also sometimes called coronary heart disease, or ischaemic heart disease.

As the arteries narrow, they may not deliver enough blood and oxygen to your heart muscle. The first effects of this are pain and discomfort called angina. As the disease progresses, the narrowing can form a tight blockage that greatly limits the blood supply to part of your heart. A “heart attack” or myocardial infarction occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle. This is a medical emergency, and can be fatal.

The risk factors for coronary artery disease include smoking, diabetes mellitus, elevated cholesterol and hypertension. Family history, overweight/ obesity, sedentary lifestyles, age and male gender are also risk factors.