Because the severity of CAD and its symptoms can vary from person to person, the way the disease is diagnosed and treated can also vary. CAD is often diagnosed through a series of tests that can include blood tests to see if protein has been released into the bloodstream from damaged heart tissues, electrocardiograms (EKGs) to check the heart’s electrical activity, “stress” tests to record the heartbeat during exercise, nuclear scanning to check for damaged areas of the heart, and angiography to see how blood flows.
Treatment of CAD depends on many factors, such as the patient’s age, heart function, and overall health. Often, treatment begins with focusing on lifestyle–stopping smoking for patients who smoke, reducing fat in the diet, and engaging in a prescribed exercise program. Medications may also be prescribed, such as aspirin to prevent additional heart attacks, medications that decrease the workload on the heart, or medicines to reduce high blood cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. If these efforts are not effective, a patient may need to have the narrowed or blocked arteries re-opened through a procedure called balloon angioplasty, or bypassed through surgery. Balloon angioplasty involves threading a thin tube into the artery and expanding a balloon-like apparatus as a way to increase the size of the artery so more blood can flow. Bypass surgery is used to treat severe blockages by using veins or arteries from other areas of the body to divert blood flow around the blocked coronary arteries.