Centers of Excellence

Heart & Vascular Center

Coronary Heart Disease

What is Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the most common type of heart disease and the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, affecting nearly 18 million Americans every year.

Coronary heart disease occurs when cholesterol, a fatlike substance carried in the blood, forms a build-up of fatty substances and calcium called plaque. The resulting narrowing of the arteries may lead to the loss of blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle and angina (pain, discomfort or pressure in the chest). If blood flow is completely blocked by plaque or by a blood clot, a heart attack may occur.

Coronary Heart Disease Information

Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease

Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:

What Are the Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease?

Symptoms of coronary heart disease include:

  • Angina (the most common symptom of coronary artery disease)
  • 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, please consult with your doctor.

How is Coronary Heart Disease Diagnosed?

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 coronary heart disease, a complete medical history, a thorough physical exam, and one or more of the special diagnostic tests below may be provided.

How is Coronary Heart Disease Treated?

Treatment for coronary heart disease, ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery, may include medications and other treatments.

Successful treatment of coronary heart disease requires a personalized approach to care from a team of experienced specialists. 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

We offer the full range of conventional and advanced surgical therapies for coronary heart disease, including:

We have also developed expertise in using hybrid therapies to care for patients with complex conditions who may be considered "untreatable" at other centers. Our team provides personalized, comprehensive care for patients who need coronary disease surgery and other complex procedures.

We also offer a range of minimally invasive options, including:

These procedures use small incisions that allow patients to experience less pain, less scarring and faster recovery. In fact, many of our patients go home the next day. In addition, we offer surgical treatments when minimally invasive treatment is not an option.

Medications that may be part of a patient’s care plan include:

  • Statins
  • Antiplatelet medications and anticoagulants
  • Vasodilators
  • Beta-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors

Our Expertise in Coronary Heart Disease

Our nationally renowned cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology specialists at Brigham and Women's Hospital's Heart & Vascular Center offer comprehensive care for adults with coronary heart disease. Specialists in the Division of Cardiac Surgery and the Interventional Cardiology Program work with a team of medical cardiologists, cardiovascular imaging experts and radiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for patients. Read more about our heart and vascular team.

The Heart & Vascular Center is one of the largest in the U.S., treating more than 54,000 patients. Research has shown that experience translates to better outcomes for patients.

Our team of specialists are seeing patients with in-person office visits and virtual visits. For initial consults, second opinions, treatment planning and follow-up care, you can receive individualized, expert cardiac care from the comfort of your home.

As a patient in our Heart & Vascular Center, you can count on:

  • Expert care from our team of interventional cardiologists, who perform more than 4,000 minimally invasive procedures each year in our Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory
  • Follow-up care in our six-week cardiac rehab program, available in Boston or our satellite locations
  • A personalized evaluation and treatment plan from a team experienced in treating challenging and complicated cases
  • Innovative diagnostics and cutting-edge medical, interventional and surgical therapies such as coronary angioplasty and stenting, coronary endarterectomy and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG surgery)
  • The latest in robotics and advanced imaging, including echocardiography, cardiac CT, cardiac MRI, nuclear cardiology, PET/CT, CT/MRI and ultrasound
  • Access to one of the leading programs in the nation for treatment of chronic total occlusion (CTO), the complete blockage of a coronary artery. Our experienced clinicians use PCI (formerly known as angioplasty with stent) to treat even the most complex cases of CTO. In most cases, most patients feel better immediately following the procedure
  • A team that is nationally recognized in cardiovascular disease prevention, including prevention for those with a family history of heart disease and with prior history of heart attack or stroke, and who have the expertise to treat even the most complex types of heart disease, including patients who may be considered "untreatable" at other centers
  • Seamless, coordinated care from the No. 18 best hospital for heart and vascular in the country, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

Marc Sabatine, MD, MPH, cardiologist and chair of the TIMI Study Group at Brigham and Women's Hospital, answers patients' most commonly searched questions about coronary artery disease.

What to Expect at the Heart & Vascular Center

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from Brigham and Women’s main 75 Francis St. 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, your 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 from 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.

Additional Resources

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