Skip to Content
Questions about Atrial Fibrillation? Get answers from our expert.

Coronary Artery Disease


Coronary artery disease (CAD) is narrowing of the arteries to your heart caused by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is made up of cholesterol and other substances. The narrowing in your arteries decreases the amount of blood that can flow to your heart. This causes your heart to get less oxygen.


Call 911 for any of the following signs of a heart attack:

  • Squeezing, pressure, fullness, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than a few minutes or returns

  • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm

  • Shortness of breath or breathing problems

  • A sudden cold sweat, lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have chest pain that is more frequent, or you have chest pain at rest.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Cardiac rehabilitation:

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you attend cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). This is a program run by specialists who will help you safely strengthen your heart and reduce the risk of more heart disease. The plan includes exercise, relaxation, stress management, and heart-healthy nutrition. Healthcare providers will also check to make sure any medicines you are taking are working.


You may need any of the following:

  • Blood pressure medicines are given to lower your blood pressure. These medicines may include ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. ACE inhibitors help keep your blood vessels relaxed and open, which helps keep blood flowing into your heart. Beta-blockers keep your heart pumping strongly and regularly. This helps keep your heart from working too hard to get oxygen.

  • Cholesterol medicines help lower blood cholesterol levels.

  • Nitrates , such as nitroglycerin, relax the arteries of your heart so it gets more oxygen. They help to relieve your chest pain.

  • Antiplatelet medicines , such as aspirin, keep platelets from sticking to a damaged part of your artery. Platelets are a part of your blood that stick together to help heal injuries. They may cause a blockage in your artery and keep blood from flowing to your heart.

  • Blood thinners help prevent blood clots. Examples of blood thinners include heparin and warfarin. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. The following are general safety guidelines to follow while you are taking a blood thinner:

    • Watch for bleeding and bruising while you take blood thinners. Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth on your skin, and a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth. This can keep your skin and gums from bleeding. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Do not play contact sports.

    • Tell your dentist and other healthcare providers that you take anticoagulants. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you take this medicine.

    • Do not start or stop any medicines unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Many medicines cannot be used with blood thinners.

    • Tell your healthcare provider right away if you forget to take the medicine, or if you take too much.

    • Warfarin is a blood thinner that you may need to take. The following are things you should be aware of if you take warfarin.

      • Foods and medicines can affect the amount of warfarin in your blood. Do not make major changes to your diet while you take warfarin. Warfarin works best when you eat about the same amount of vitamin K every day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and certain other foods. Ask for more information about what to eat when you are taking warfarin.

      • You will need to see your healthcare provider for follow-up visits when you are on warfarin. You will need regular blood tests. These tests are used to decide how much medicine you need.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need to return for other tests. You may also be referred to a cardiac surgeon. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Manage CAD:

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage your CAD. Smoking also increases your risk for heart attack. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise at least 30 minutes each day, on most days of the week. Exercise helps to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider about the kind of exercise you should do and how to get started.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk to your healthcare provider about how to lose weight. A weight loss of 10% can improve your heart health.

  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal plan. Choose low-fat foods, such as skim or 1% fat milk, low-fat cheese and yogurt, fish, chicken (without skin), and lean meats. Eat two 4-ounce servings of fish high in omega-3 fats each week, such as salmon, fresh tuna, and herring. Avoid foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, potato chips, salty snacks, and cold cuts. Put less table salt on your food.

  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

  • Manage other health conditions. Follow your healthcare provider's advice on how to manage other conditions that can affect your heart health. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. You may need to take medicines for these conditions and make other lifestyle changes.

  • Ask if you should have a flu vaccine. The flu can be dangerous for a person who has CAD. The flu vaccine is available every year in the fall.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Coronary Artery Disease (Discharge Care)