Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) describes the narrowing of small blood vessels responsible for supplying the heart with blood and oxygen. For this reason, CHD has also been called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).
What Is Coronary Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease is typically caused by atherosclerosis. This is a condition in which fatty materials and other substances form plaque (or buildup) on arterial walls. As plaque accumulates, artery walls begin to narrow, leading to strain on the heart muscle.
As arteries leading to the heart narrow, blood flow to the heart slows and may even stop altogether. Reduced blood flow can cause chest pain (stable angina), heart attack, and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually present during physical activity.
Coronary Artery Disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.
Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors
Men in their 40s may be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases like CAD than women. As women get older, however, their risk increases. After menopause, a woman’s risk is almost equal to that of a man’s.
Genetic factors can also increase risk, as heredity is involved in CAD development. If someone in your family has a history of heart disease – especially before the age of 50 – you are at greater risk of developing CAD. Your risk increases as you age.
Diabetes is a strong risk factor for CAD. High blood pressure increases your risk of both CAD and heart failure. High cholesterol levels can also contribute to risk. LDL cholesterol (also called “bad cholesterol”) should be low, while HDL (also called “good cholesterol”) should be high. These numbers will reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe the collection of symptoms, including high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, an excess of body fat around the waist, and increased insulin levels. Individuals with metabolic syndrome are at greater risk for developing CAD, according to the American Heart Association.
Smokers are also at increased risk for developing heart disease than non-smokers. Kidney disease has also been linked to CAD development. Having had atherosclerosis in another area of the body – including stroke or abdominal aneurysm – also increases your risk of having Coronary Artery Disease.
Additional risk factors for Coronary Heart Disease include high levels of alcohol consumption, inadequate exercise, and chronic stress. Increased levels of inflammatory chemicals, such as C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, have also been identified as possible risks for heart disease development. High homocysteine levels are also linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack.
Preventing Coronary Artery Disease
Although it can be daunting to see the risks of developing Coronary Artery Disease begin, the condition is largely preventable. Leading a healthy lifestyle and mitigating risk factors can greatly decrease your likelihood of developing the disease. By preventing plaque from building up in your veins, you reduce the risk of developing a blood clot and other circulatory concerns and continue to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body.
One of the best ways to prevent CAD is to eliminate smoking and drinking. Both smoking and consuming alcohol have been linked to the development of Coronary Artery Disease. By removing smoking from the equation, you significantly improve your chances of maintaining healthy heart function and blood flow. Limiting alcohol consumption is another foolproof method of prevention.
Choosing a healthy diet rich in healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins is usually considered the best dietary weapon against CAD. Variety is important in maintaining a rich and nourishing diet. Aim for plenty of different colors in your fruits and vegetables.
Regular exercise has also been identified as an important tool in the fight against Coronary Artery Disease. Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, manage small blood sugar issues, and reduce the amount of fat present in the body. Exercise can also help boost mood and fuel other healthy activities, making it a simple but effective preventive tool.
Work with your physician to develop a treatment plan for high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, and high cholesterol. Treating and maintaining each of these health conditions can significantly improve your likelihood of developing heart disease. If you have not yet begun to tackle each of these conditions on their own aggressively, you may be in a losing battle against CAD. Speak with your physician as quickly as possible to develop a treatment plan.
Symptoms of CAD
Coronary Heart Disease symptoms may be stark, but symptoms can also be silent or go undetected. Chest pain or discomfort is the most commonly reported symptom. Other possible symptoms of the condition include:
- Shortness of breath. The heart is an important muscle in the body. A lack of proper heart function can lead to a significant decrease in effective lung function. Persistent or sudden shortness of breath can indicate an impending heart attack or the presence of CAD.
- Tightening in the chest. Blocked arteries can lead to a sensation of “tightening” in the chest and other areas of the body. This tightening has been compared to a squeezing sensation or the feeling of a taut wire.
- Heart attack. This is one of the most significant symptoms–and the most fatal. Heart attacks commonly occur in response to the advent of plaque in the arteries. A heart attack may be one of the first and most significant indicators that plaque is present.
If you want to learn more, Metrolina Medical Associates offers Vascular and Organ Ultrasound to help diagnose Coronary Artery Disease in Rock Hill, Charlotte, and the surrounding areas.