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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 call line 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?


  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call 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 may need several medicines.
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and statins can help prevent a heart attack. ACE inhibitors, ARBs, and beta-blockers help lower your blood pressure. Statins help lower cholesterol, which is a type of fat that can clog your arteries.
    • Nitrates can help make chest pain happen less often.
    • Aspirin and other blood thinners help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
  • 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 with the emergency operator; he or she will give you further instructions.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor about angina symptoms that you have had, even if they went away.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter medicines 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 a heart-healthy diet that is high in fibre and low in saturated fat and sodium.
    • Learn what a serving is. A "serving" and a "portion" are not always the same thing. Make sure that you are not eating larger portions than recommended. For example, a serving of pasta is ½ cup. A serving size of meat is 75 grams; a 75-gram serving is about the size of a deck of cards.
    • Eat a variety of whole grain foods every day. Include whole grain foods such as oats, whole grain bread, and brown rice.
    • Eat fish, skinless poultry, lean meats, and soy products such as tofu instead of high-fat meats. Cut out all visible fat when you prepare meat.
    • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They have lots of nutrients that help protect against heart disease, and they have little-if any-fat. Keep carrots, celery, and other veggies handy for snacks. Buy fruit that is in season and store it where you can see it so that you will be tempted to eat it. Cook dishes that have a lot of veggies in them, such as stir-fried dishes and soups.
    • Read food labels and try to avoid saturated fat and trans fat. They increase your risk of heart disease. Bake, broil, grill, or steam foods instead of frying them. Use olive or canola oil when you cook. Try cholesterol-lowering spreads, such as Becel.
    • Limit sodium. Talk with your doctor about how much sodium you are allowed.
    • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
    • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
    • Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. 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.
  • Talk to your family, friends, or a therapist about your feelings. It is normal to feel upset about having this disease and to feel afraid of having a heart attack. Talking openly about your feelings can help you cope. If you think you have symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor.
  • Avoid colds and influenza (flu). Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Get a flu vaccine every year. If you must be around people with colds or flu, wash your hands often.

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 call 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 call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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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.