Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary Heart Disease, which is also known as coronary artery disease, generally occurs when plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. Those arteries supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. The build-up of plaque, a substance comprised in part of cholesterol, decreases this blood flow to the heart. This condition, which is referred to as atherosclerosis, is a leading cause of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). When the plaque is present, the arteries become narrower, impeding the work of the heart muscle. CHD can be very serious – even life-threatening – as it can lead to chest pain (angina), shortness of breath and even a heart attack.

Coronary Heart Disease

As children, our arteries are smooth. They allow blood to flow easily. As we age, things change. Unhealthy habits such as eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol, smoking and living a sedentary life can accelerate the build-up of plaque in our arteries. Although lifestyle factors play a major role in the development of CHD, the condition does have a genetic component. Women develop Coronary Heart Disease more often than men. They are also more likely to die of the condition than their male counterparts. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 are also at a higher risk for CHD.

Obese and diabetic patients are more likely to be affected by Coronary Heart Disease. Those with high blood pressure and high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) have an increased risk of developing CHD. Aggressive (or type A) personalities and individuals who don't know how to manage their stress become afflicted with this disease more often than their laid-back counterparts.

Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease include:

  • chest pain (angina)
  • shortness of breath
  • jaw pain, back pain or arm pain on the left side
  • palpitations
  • dizziness, light-headedness and/or fainting
  • weakness
  • irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

In order to be diagnosed with CHD, your doctor will take a detailed medical history, assess your risk factors and perform a physical exam which may include extensive lab work and diagnostics such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood tests, a chest X-ray and a coronary angiography. Treatment will be customized based on the results of your testing and your medical history. Your doctor will probably suggest some lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing stress, exercising more and/or eating a heart-healthy diet.

Medication may also be prescribed. Common medications used to treat CHD are:

  • anticoagulants
  • antiplatelets (like aspirin)
  • ACE inhibitors
  • beta blockers
  • calcium channel blockers
  • nitroglycerin
  • glycoproteins
  • fish oil
  • and other supplements, especially those that are high in the essential fatty acids (EFAs).

In certain cases, medical procedures will be deemed necessary. Angioplasty opens up blocked or narrowed arteries. More than one million Americans receive this relatively safe procedure annually. Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), which creates new routes for blood to flow by grafting a healthy artery to a blocked one, is another common surgical treatment for CHD. CABG is the most common open-heart surgery in the United States. About half a million of these procedures take place each year.

Managing CHD may be difficult, but it is possible. Regular and frequent doctor's visits are necessary. Your blood levels must be monitored. If you exercise regularly, eat right and take your prescribed meds and supplements the prognosis is good for those living with Cronary Heart Disease. You should also learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and arrhythmia so you can seek help in a timely fashion should these complications arise.