Calcified arteries in the heart are a form of coronary artery disease. With this condition, calcium accumulates in the walls of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. The calcium makes the arteries hard.
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Additionally, deposits called plaques inside the arteries reduce blood flow to the heart, robbing it of needed oxygen. Coronary artery calcification (CAC) typically causes no symptoms initially, as the condition develops over many years. When blood flow reaches a critically low level, symptoms such as shortness of breath with exertion and chest pain often occur.
People with CAC are at risk for a heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Treatment for CAC mirrors that for other forms of coronary artery disease. Lifestyle, medical and interventional treatments can relieve symptoms and prolong life.
Some lifestyle modifications have shown to be useful for the treatment of coronary artery disease. Smoking and exposure to second hand smoke should be stopped. A diet planned with a dietitian or another qualified healthcare professional can help reduce blood cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also help with blood pressure and cholesterol management. Exercise can be a useful treatment for this condition, although it's important to consult a healthcare professional before beginning an exercise program. Weight loss may be beneficial for people who are overweight or obese.
Medical management refers to the use of medications to treat coronary artery disease. Aspirin is one of the most common medicines prescribed. It interferes with small particles called platelets in the blood. Platelets help form blood clots, a good thing when a person is bleeding. But when the blood vessels in the heart are narrowed and hard, formation of a platelet plug can lead to a heart attack.
Other drugs, such as statins, are given to lower fat and cholesterol in the body. In people with high blood pressure, various medications are used to lower the blood pressure. If symptoms are interfering with daily activities, nitrates may be given to temporarily dilate the coronary arteries. Other medications such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers can be used to decrease the amount of work the heart needs to do.
Interventional treatments include procedures done to improve blood flow to the heart. There are several options for people with moderate to severe coronary artery narrowing and calcification.
1. Balloon Angioplasty
This procedure involves threading a small catheter into the narrowed coronary artery and inflating a tiny balloon within the catheter to increase the diameter of the blood vessel and improve blood flow. A stent — a hollow metal mesh tube — may be inserted to help keep the artery open.
2. Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
Coronary artery bypass surgery involves taking blood vessels from elsewhere in the body and using them to bypass the narrowed coronary artery or arteries.
3. Transmyocardial Laser Revascularization
Transmyocardial laser revascularization may be an option for people for whom bypass surgery is not possible or too risky. With this procedure, a laser makes tiny channels through the heart muscle to supplement blood flow coming from the diseased coronary arteries.