Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It’s caused by fatty deposits (plaque), which build up inside the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your heart. CAD can lead to a heart attack, and it’s the No. 1 cause of death for adults in the United States.

At University of Missouri Health Care, our specialists are here to help you prevent heart problems before they begin and to expertly treat CAD and heart attack, when necessary.

coronary artery plaque 3d illustration

We offer compassionate, comprehensive care to our patients and work with you and your family throughout the entire treatment process. From screening techniques, such as advanced cardiac imaging, to immediate care for heart attacks, we provide the services you need for a healthy heart.

Risk factors and symptoms of coronary artery disease

Plaque buildup within blood vessels of the heart reduces the amount of blood flow and can have long-term effects on your heart health. It's not always easy to tell if you're having problems with your blood vessels because you can't feel plaque building up in your arteries.

If you have one of these risk factors below for CAD, your doctor may want to screen you for the condition.

  • A family history of heart disease
  • Age (being older than 65)
  • Diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

If CAD does show symptoms, they may include:

  • Chest pain, discomfort or a strange feeling in the chest (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart attack

Less common symptoms include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Increased sweating

Lifesaving heart attack care

If one of your coronary arteries becomes significantly blocked by plaque, it cuts off blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. The heart muscle begins to die, causing a heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction).

The heart attack care teams at MU Health Care offer immediate, lifesaving treatment for heart attacks. From the moment you enter the door, it takes our team only 47 minutes on average to clear the blockage in your artery and stop the heart attack. We provide care much faster than the national goal of 90 minutes, saving more heart muscle — and lives.

Coronary artery disease diagnosis and treatment

If your doctor thinks that you have coronary artery disease, you may have tests to check how well your heart is working. Our physicians use the latest cardiac imaging technology.

We perform many tests, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Coronary angiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
  • Exercise electrocardiogram (stress test)
  • MRI stress test
  • Radiation-free heart MRI

Our Heart and Vascular Care physicians provide you with the best cardiovascular care based on your needs and the latest research. We use treatments that have been shown to save and improve lives. Your health care team — including cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and nurses — helps determine which treatments are right for you.

Medicines and lifestyle changes

If your physician detects CAD in the early stages, some medicines, along with lifestyle changes, can help keep plaque buildup from getting worse.

Your treatment plan may include:

  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Cholesterol medicine
  • Improved diet
  • Increased physical activity

Minimally invasive cardiac catheterization

If you have advanced CAD, your physician may want to perform a minimally invasive procedure to open up your arteries and improve blood flow. During this procedure, our interventional cardiologists make a small incision in your groin. Using X-ray guidance, a thin tube (catheter) is directed through the groin and up into the coronary arteries. Our physicians use the latest tools to widen arteries, such as balloon catheterization, and keep arteries open with stents (wire mesh tubes).

Coronary artery bypass graft

If your coronary arteries are blocked by plaque, you may need a coronary artery bypass graft. In this open-heart procedure, our experienced cardiothoracic surgeons take a vein or artery from another part of your body and attach (graft) it onto the blocked artery. The grafted vein or artery allows blood flow to properly reach the heart, preventing a heart attack.

Our leading-edge, hybrid operating room combines the functions of a catheterization lab with the surgical functions of an operating room. This allows doctors to perform both open and minimally invasive procedures in the same room. Patients benefit from being treated by our collaborative health care team at one time without the need to schedule multiple procedures. 

Cardiac rehabilitation

If you have received treatment for CAD, you may also benefit from cardiac rehabilitation. As part of the MU Health Care cardiac rehabilitation program, you receive a comprehensive, personalized plan to improve your heart health. This plan includes specially designed exercises, advice from registered dietitians and education on heart health topics. You’ll work with a team of experts to increase fitness, improve quality of life and prevent further heart problems.