The blockage of the arteries within the heart, due to plaque build up, causes coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease. An overview of the coronary artery disease is covered in the following article that will help you understand more about the causes, symptoms and treatments for this heart ailment.
Studies have found that coronary artery disease (CAD) affects more than 16 million Americans. This makes CAD one of the most common heart ailments affecting men and women over the age of 40. Coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease occurs due to atherosclerosis. This is a condition where plaque builds up within the walls of the coronary arteries. This causes a coronary artery blockage and decrease in supply of blood to the heart.
When this occurs, it leads to a number of coronary artery diseases like transient ischemic attack, stroke, peripheral vascular diseases, intestinal ischemia, etc. It is very disturbing to note the fact, majority of deaths in the developed world are due to diseases caused by atherosclerosis as well as hypertension.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the major blood vessels of the heart are blocked. This blockage occurs due to deposits of cholesterol, called plaque. The plaque narrows down the arteries and this causes reduction in the supply of blood, oxygen as well as nutrients to the heart. Thus, the cardiac muscles suffer from damage or become diseased. CAD may take years to develop and, during the initial stages, it tends to go unnoticed.
Thus, it is important to understand the causes and take steps to prevent the disease. There are many causes that lead to damage and injury of the coronary arteries after years of abuse. These risk factors include:
- Men over 40 years of age are more prone to CAD then women
- Older women who have reached menopause
- People with high blood glucose levels (diabetics)
- High blood pressure
- High levels of LDL cholesterol
- High triglyceride levels
- People with excess fat around their waist
- Chronic smokers
- Individuals suffering from chronic kidney diseases
- People who do not exercise, or have poor physical activity
- Individuals who are under high levels of stress
- Family history of heart ailments
Coronary artery disease symptoms are not very obvious initially. If one observes shortness of breath, getting tired easily after minimum physical activity. it means their heart is not as healthy as it should be. One of the most common symptoms of CAD is chest pain or discomfort, also called angina. This pain arises when the heart does not receive enough blood or oxygen supply. The intensity of pain may vary from person to person, depending on the level of artery blockage. Other symptoms include:
- Heavy feeling that feels like a strong squeeze to the heart
- Pain from chest radiating under the sternum (breast bone), abdomen, between the shoulder blades, neck, arms, upper back, etc.
- Fatigue after any type of physical activity
- Weakness, dizzy spells
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Pressure, feeling of fullness, burning sensation that is often mistaken as indigestion or heartburn
Most people only wake up to the symptoms of CAD after they suffer from a heart attack. A heart attack occurs after the artery is completely blocked by plaque. Symptoms of heart attack include crushing pressure in chest, pain around shoulder and arm, shortness of breath and sweating. In case of women, the typical signs of heart attack are not usually experienced as in men. Women develop nausea, back pain or jaw pain during a heart attack. Most of the time there aren’t any kind of warning signs of an oncoming heart attack.
When a doctor suspects CAD, he will order many tests to diagnose the exact heart ailment. These tests include:
- CT angiography
- Coronary angiography
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Stress test
- Magnetic resonance angiography
- Nuclear scan
Based on the findings of the test, the doctor will suggest a treatment plan. The first thing one will be asked is to undergo a change in lifestyle. These lifestyle changes include eating a healthy balanced diet and avoiding all kinds of fatty, junk foods. One will be asked to exercise regularly and quit smoking completely. In case of obesity, excessive weight needs to be lost. Reduction in stress will also help in overcoming CAD.
Apart from changes in lifestyle, the patient is advised medications that helps in modifying cholesterol. Blood thinners like aspirin will be advised to prevent blood clots. Beta blockers help slow down heart rate and decrease blood pressure. Chest pain will be treated with help of nitroglycerin tablets, sprays as well as patches. ACE inhibitors and AEBs will help in decreasing blood pressure as well as prevent progression of CAD.
Coronary artery disease is one of the biggest killers around the world. One needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise regularly, as well as mediate, to keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control. People over the age of 40 years should regularly undergo complete health check up to catch CAD in its initial stages. This will prevent heart complications like heart attacks in future.