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Coronary Artery Disease: Care Instructions

Coronary artery disease

Your Care Instructions

The heart is a muscle, and like any muscle, it needs blood to work well. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your heart have a buildup of plaque—deposits of fats and other substances. Plaque can reduce blood flow to the heart muscle. This can cause angina symptoms such as chest pain or pressure. A heart attack can happen if blood flow is completely blocked.

You can do a lot to improve your health and prevent a heart attack. Eating healthy food, not smoking, getting regular exercise, and taking your medicine are the main things you can do every day to stay healthy.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • You will take medicines that lower your risk of a heart attack and lower your risk of dying early from heart disease. These medicines include:
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). They lower blood pressure.
    • Aspirin and other blood thinners. They prevent blood clots that could cause a heart attack.
    • Beta-blockers. They lower the heart's workload.
    • Statins and other cholesterol medicines. They lower cholesterol.
  • If your doctor has given you nitroglycerin for angina symptoms (such as chest pain or pressure) keep it with you at all times. If you have symptoms, sit down and rest, and take the first dose of nitroglycerin as directed. If your symptoms get worse or are not getting better within 5 minutes, call 911 right away. Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will give you further instructions.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, or natural health products without talking to your doctor first.


Ask your doctor if a cardiac rehab program is right for you. Cardiac rehab can help you make lifestyle changes. In cardiac rehab, a team of health professionals provides education and support to help you make new, healthy habits.

  • Do not smoke. Avoid second-hand smoke too. Smoking can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit saturated fat, sodium, and alcohol. Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Ask your doctor what level of exercise is safe for you. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 2½ hours a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Manage other health problems. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • If you have angina symptoms, pay attention to your symptoms. This can help you see what causes them and what is typical for you.
  • Avoid infections such as COVID-19, colds, and influenza (flu). Get a pneumococcal vaccine. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Get a flu vaccine every year. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
  • If you think you have symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor. Symptoms include feeling sad or hopeless most of the time, or losing interest in activities that used to make you happy.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have angina symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, that do not go away with rest or are not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are having angina symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, more often than usual, or they are different or worse than usual.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.