What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is a serious, chronic health condition that affects millions of people each year. This disease is the most common form of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is estimated to cause one third of all deaths worldwide, making it one of the most deadly diseases.
What Are the Causes?
Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients) become partially blocked. The blockages are caused by cholesterol-rich deposits, known officially as plaque.
Blockages in the arteries cause their openings to narrow, which decreases the blood flow to the heart and increases blood pressure; this is similar to how you can increase the water pressure of your hose by blocking part of it with your finger.
The causes of artery blockage can vary person to person, but here are some factors that contribute to coronary artery disease.
Cigarette smokers are far more likely to get this disease than nonsmokers. This is because nicotine is a stimulant that raises your blood pressure, increases your heart rate and damages the walls of the arteries.
High Blood Pressure or High Cholesterol
High blood pressure or high cholesterol are often pre-warning signs of impending heart disease later in life.
Diabetes or Insulin Resistance
Consistently high blood sugar from diabetes can damage the walls of the arteries over time, leading to eventual artery disease.
An inactive lifestyle is also a risk factor for this type of disease, along with other illnesses like diabetes and cancer.
Age and Sex
Men have a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than women, and the disease is also more likely to occur in people over the age of 65.
It is not always hereditary, but it is more likely to occur if you have a family history of heart disease, especially if somebody in your family was diagnosed before the age of 50.
Some races have higher incidences of high blood pressure and heart disease than others. African Americans, Mexican Americans, native Hawaiians and Asian Americans are at higher risk of developing heart disease. This from a combination of biological and social factors. For example, African Americans are thought to have a gene that affects the way their body handles salt, increasing risk of hypertension.
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Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary heart disease does not develop overnight. It builds slowly over time, so it is important to keep yourself aware of the signs and be on the watch for them. Some of the symptoms of coronary heart disease include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Unfortunately, many of the early symptoms of coronary artery disease go unnoticed, so many people do not learn they have the disease until they have a heart attack.
Treatment Options for Coronary Artery Disease
Treatment for coronary artery disease generally consists of lifestyle changes first, then medications and medical procedures only if necessary. Here are some of the lifestyle changes prescribed to treat coronary artery disease.
Foods high in fat, cholesterol, or sodium are bad choices for somebody with coronary artery disease. Better choices are lots of fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein.
Exercise and Weight Loss
Many people who develop heart disease lead sedentary lifestyles or are obese. Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day can improve health on both of these counts.
Stress can lead to higher blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease. Reducing stress through delegating workloads, practicing mindfulness and relaxation, and possibly attending counseling are all great ways to reduce stress to treat coronary artery disease.
Quitting smoking is one of the best choices a person can make for their heart health, because nicotine restricts and damages the arteries, especially in patients who already have coronary artery disease.
Medications used to manage coronary artery disease can vary, but include cholesterol-modifying medications, aspirin, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and nitroglycerin. A doctor can evaluate your specific needs and help you find an appropriate medication.
In severe cases, especially surrounding a major heart attack, a surgical procedure may be necessary. These include angioplasty (using a catheter and inflatable balloon to reduce plaque deposits in the arteries) and bypass surgery (rerouting the arteries so avoid the blockage). Bypass is a more extreme option because it involves open-heart surgery.
Preventing Coronary Artery Disease
Many of the nonsurgical treatments for treating coronary artery disease are also strategies for preventing it. Not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and reducing stress in your life are all ways to reduce your risk of developing heart disease later in life. Certain factors for developing heart disease cannot be changed, like race or family history. So, it is especially important that these individuals maintain their heart health in other, actionable ways.