Coronary artery disease: Ways to prevent the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to Dr. Oz

Korin Miller

It’s not a term that a lot of people are familiar with, but coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women.

Coronary artery disease happens when blood vessels that lie on the surface of the heart no longer can deliver the blood that is so crucial for the functioning of the heart muscle,” cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Normally, when your heart squeezes blood, it feeds itself first. “That’s why these coronary arteries, which nourish the heart muscle, are so vital,” Oz says.

There are a few reasons why someone might develop coronary artery disease.

Anyone can develop coronary artery disease, but they’re usually associated with a few ailments:

Diabetes: “Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for diabetics,” Oz says.

High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure is “like a fire hydrant that’s top is torn off, so it’s squirting high-pressure blood, ripping up the lining of the arteries,” says Oz. Your body has to repair those tears, so it puts “plaster,” aka cholesterol, there.

High cholesterol: When you have high quality cholesterol (HDL), your body can fix these tears. “But if it’s lousy LDL cholesterol, it’s like cheap spackling. It doesn’t work so well,” Oz says.

What do most people get wrong about coronary artery disease?

Most people mistakenly think they’ll have typical signs of heart disease, like feeling like there’s an elephant on their chest, or pain in the neck, left arm or stomach. “But probably half the people don’t have obvious symptoms and that’s why they die,” says Oz.

How is coronary artery disease treated?

One of the best ways of treating people who are at risk of developing coronary artery disease are statin drugs. “These are drugs that change how cholesterol is made in the liver,” Oz explains.” By interfering with making too much cholesterol, they allow you to have less of that lousy LDL cholesterol, so your blood doesn’t have a lot of fat molecules floating around in it.”

Why is it so important to catch coronary artery disease early?

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of heart attacks and death. “You never want to ignore coronary artery disease because it’s a treatable problem and if you can open up these blockages before they close off… you’ll prolong your life immeasurably,” Oz says. “But by ignoring this obviously fixable problem, you’re not hiding from the enemy — you’re inviting them in.”