What is Coronary Artery Disease?

Arteries are elastic, hollow tubes, through which blood flows. Cells line the walls of the arteries, creating a barrier between the blood and the artery wall. Called the endothelium, these cells are usually smooth, but fat can build up along the artery wall, creating small sticky bumps that collect other substances, such as inflammatory cells and calcium. All of this combines and forms a plaque, narrowing the artery.

When the arteries that feed the heart become narrowed or blocked, it can lead to chest pain as well as increase the risk of having a heart attack. This hardening and narrowing of these arteries is called atherosclerosis, and it’s the leading cause of death in men and women.

“I am living proof that it works.”
A non-invasive procedure repaired three of Albert Hinkson's coronary arteries, saving his life.
Coronary Basics

  • The heart pumps about 3,000 gallons of blood every day, and it needs a rich supply of blood in order to do its job
  • Coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to your heart
  • As plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries, these arteries harden and narrow, a process known as atherosclerosis
How Arteries Narrow

  • Fat builds up on the walls of blood vessels, irritating the blood vessel walls
  • The fat mixes with other substances in the blood, hardening into plaque
  • If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form, blocking the blood supply to the heart and leading to a heart attack
Solutions

  • Lifestyle changes and medication can reduce the risk factors that lead to diseased arteries
  • A long, thin tube (called a catheter) can be inserted into a blood vessel and used to reopen and stabilize arteries
  • Healthy blood vessels (called bypass grafts) can be attached to narrowed or blocked arteries near the heart, allowing blood to bypass diseased arteries

How We Can Help

Whenever possible, our specialists emphasize the least invasive options for restoring blood flow to the heart. They work as a team to help patients adjust their lifestyles, and they also prescribe medication to reduce high blood pressure and other risk factors.

Sometimes lifestyle changes and medications are not enough to bring coronary artery disease under control. If those options are not enough, our physicians specialize both in life-saving traditional approaches as well as minimally-invasive options.

  • Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG): In the procedure, cardiothoracic surgeons remove ancillary blood vessels from the leg, chest or other area and use one or more of them to create bypasses around severely diseased coronary arteries. The newly grafted arteries restore blood flow to various areas of the heart wall, bringing oxygen-rich blood to the this muscle — and thus providing long-term relief from angina, shortness of breath and other symptoms of coronary disease. This life-saving operation can be performed with a traditional open-chest approach. Or, depending on a patient’s condition, a surgical team may be able to access the coronary arteries through tiny incisions made through the ribs. Learn more about this life-saving operation.
  • Angioplasty: The cardiology team inserts catheters equipped with tips that reopen the compromised areas of the arteries. Most often, the team uses a catheter tipped with a tiny balloon that it can inflate to push plaque to the sides of the artery. Sometimes, the team will also cut or burn away the plaque in a procedure called atherectomy.
  • Stenting: Often used in conjunction with angioplasty, these tiny, precisely designed mesh tubes (called stents) are placed in the treated area. These wire-mesh cylinders increase the likelihood that the coronary artery will remain open and not re-accumulate plaque.

Why Choose Us

The region’s most experienced cardiothoracic surgeons practice medicine right here at Lourdes Cardiovascular Institute. By using the most advanced techniques – including robotic surgery – our surgeons may be able to repair a patient’s coronary arteries without separating the breast bone or stopping the heart.