Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death and illness in Western societies. A number of conditions result from CAD, including angina, congestive heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. CAD results when decreased blood flow through the coronary arteries causes inadequate delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the myocardium. The lumens of the coronary arteries become narrowed from either fatty fibrous plaques or calcium plaque deposits, thus reducing blood flow to the myocardium, which can lead to chest pain or even myocardial infarction (MI) and sudden cardiac death.
Plaque buildup in the coronary arteries is a result of arteriosclerosis, defined as thickening of the arterial walls’ inner aspect and a loss of elasticity. Arterial walls may develop calcifications, which diminish the ability of the vessels to transport blood adequately. Atherosclerosis, the most common form of arteriosclerosis, produces yellowish plaques made up mostly of cholesterol and lipids that line the inner arterial wall. The process of atherosclerosis may be initiated by damage to the arterial endothelium. Plaque accumulation reduces the inner arterial lumen and leads to wall thickening, calcification, and reduced blood supply. Aging results in increased streaking of fatty substances and fibrous change in the arteries.