Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease occurs when cholesterol, a fatlike substance carried in the blood, builds up to form plaque (fatty substances and calcium) in the lining of the coronary arteries. This leads to atherosclerosis. Blood and oxygen may no longer flow easily to the heart muscle because of the resulting narrowing of the arteries, which may cause angina (pain, discomfort, or pressure in the chest). If blood flow is completely blocked by plaque or by a blood clot that forms inside the narrowed coronary artery, a heart attack may occur. CHD is the most common type of heart disease, which affects nearly 13 million Americans and is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States.

Cardiovascular specialists in the Division of Cardiac Surgery and the Interventional Cardiology Program offer comprehensive inpatient and outpatient clinical services to adults with coronary heart disease. Part of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center, their services include a broad range of innovative diagnostics and cutting-edge medical, interventional and surgical therapies such as coronary angioplasty and stentingcoronary endarterectomy and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG surgery).

Coronary Heart Disease Topics

Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease

Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:

Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease

Chest pain (angina) is the most common symptom of coronary heart disease. Other symptoms of CHD include:

  • Shortness of breath during exertion, at rest, or while lying flat
  • Weight gain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and cold sweats
  • Sense of indigestion or heartburn
  • Palpitations (abnormal heartbeat)

All of these symptoms are common to many medical conditions and may not indicate coronary heart disease. If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, consult your doctor.

Diagnosis of Coronary Heart Disease

Our coronary heart disease specialists provide expert evaluation and diagnosis with the aid of the latest in advanced imaging technologies. In order to diagnose and determine treatment for CHD, a complete medical history, a thorough physical exam, and one or more of the special diagnostic tests below may be provided.

Treatment for Coronary Heart Disease

Our cardiovascular specialists develop individualized treatment plans for patients based on:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Medical history
  • Severity and form of the disease
  • Tolerance for specific medications or procedures
  • Expectations for course of the disease
  • Presence of other conditions

Treatment for CHD, ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery, may include:


Watch this video of Gregory Piazza, MD, discussing anticoagulant therapy. Or, read the video transcript about anticoagulant therapy.

Interventional and Surgical Procedures

What You Can Expect

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Watkins Clinic for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you care will be provided by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with coronary heart disease. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

During your surgery, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center. Staff members will provide surgery updates and caregivers who leave the hospital will be contacted by cell phone.

Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.
Download Cardiac Surgery: A Guide for Patients

Multidisciplinary Care

Patients benefit from the teamwork of medical cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, vascular and endovascular surgeons, cardiovascular imaging experts and radiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in coronary heart disease. They work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients.


Learn more about coronary heart disease in our health library.

Read questions and answers about heart attack and stroke.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center where patients and families can access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.


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