Do you suffer from coronary artery disease, or does anyone you know? Besides being the most common type of heart disease in the United States — where it accounts for approximately 370,000 deaths a year — it is also responsible for about one in every five deaths worldwide. In 2002, of the recorded 57 million deaths, 16.7 million were due to cardiovascular diseases.
At first, this does not produce symptoms but as plaque deposits build up, patients will begin noticing there is something wrong.
What causes coronary artery disease?
Coronary heart disease is thought to be the result of damage to the inner layer of the coronary artery. This leads to a build-up of fat deposits at the site of injury. Fat deposits consist of cholesterol and waste products, and a buildup of these fat deposits is known as atherosclerosis. When fat deposits break off, this can lead to a rupture in the inner layer of the arteries. Platelets clump in the area in an attempt to repair the artery. The clump may cause a clot, which will then reduce or even cut off blood flow to the heart. When this happens, you are dealing with a heart attack.
Some cases of coronary heart disease may be due to chronic stable angina. This is the first sign in approximately 50 percent of all patients and is caused by an obstruction of the epicardial coronary artery by atheromatous plaque. Angina strikes because of a mismatch of myocardial oxygen demand and supply. This causes myocardial ischemia, which presents feelings of discomfort. Symptoms are brought on by exertion, emotional stress, or cold temperatures.
Symptoms associated with coronary heart disease include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
- Heart attack, which strikes as a result of a lack of blood (oxygen), and this causes the heart muscle to die. A common reason for heart attacks is the formation of blood clots due to plaque in the coronary arteries. This can stop the supply of blood flow to the heart, a phenomenon known as coronary thrombosis.
- Angina. Pressure, burning or aching sensation across the chest region may spread to neck, jaw, arms, shoulder, throat, back or even teeth. Other symptoms include ingestion, heartburn, sweating, nausea, and shortness of breath. There are various types of angina that include stable angina — which is temporary and is considered as a gassy sensation or indigestion. Unstable angina is, on the other hand, caused by clots in the inner layer of the coronary artery. Variant angina causes spasms in the arteries and disrupts blood flow. This is brought on by exposure to cold temperatures, stress, some medications, smoking or cocaine use.
Factors that increase your risk of coronary artery disease
You are more likely to develop coronary artery disease if:
- You have a family history.
- You're older — the older you get, the higher your risk.
- You're younger and male, as men develop coronary heart disease at higher rates than women before they hit 60.
Now, there's really nothing you can change about these factors, but coronary artery disease also comes with modifiable risk factors. These are risk factors that you can do something about. The things that put you at risk of coronary artery disease that you can stop doing include:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having uncontrolled hypertension.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle devoid of exercise.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Not having a healthy diet.
- Having high triglyceride levels in combination with low HDL cholesterol levels.
- Being very stressed.
Once diagnosed, factors that influence your prognosis include your ethnicity, drug adherence (whether or not you stick to your prescribed medications), and depression.
Coronary artery disease managed with a variety of lifestyle changes, medications, and vaccinations. Medications that you can use include:
- Low dose aspirin
- Beta blockers
- ACE inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
Coronary heart disease is a very serious disease; it causes one in every five deaths worldwide. Occurring mostly when the arteries become blocked or ruptured, coronary artery disease becomes apparent when symptoms such as angina and shortness of breath show up. In more serious cases, it may cause heart attacks that may even lead to death. This can be prevented by exercising, proper dieting and dropping bad habits such as smoking and drinking, and it can treated with medications that include aspirin, nitroglycerin and ACE inhibitors.