Arteriosclerotic heart disease, coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, CHD, CAD — whatever you call it, it’s a serious condition of the arteries in the heart. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, according to the American Heart Association, and is responsible for 17 percent of national health expenditures. In fact, coronary heart disease kills more people yearly than all of the American soldiers who have died in all the wars the United States has fought over the last century.
The cause of CHD is most often atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when fatty material — plaque — builds up inside the walls of the arteries. The buildup leads to a narrow path for blood flow and limits the supply of oxygen to the heart. The plaque can block arteries completely or break off, travel through the bloodstream and heart, and cause dangerous clots and heart attack or stroke.
The risks increase for those with certain factors. These factors include: diabetes; high blood pressure; high LDL, or bad cholesterol; low HDL, or good cholesterol; menopause; obesity; smoking; sedentary lifestyle; and high levels of inflammation-related substances like C-reactive protein, fibrinogen and protein, as well as elevated homocysteine levels.
The symptoms aren’t always obvious. It is possible to have coronary heart disease and not even know it. The symptoms show themselves to some people, and others cannot detect any outward sign at all. Look for one or all of these indicators:
- Angina — chest pain or discomfort. This occurs when blood flow is restricted. It can feel sharp and intermittent or dull and heavy in the chest area.
- Shortness of breath or an out-of-breath feeling.
- Fatigue, especially after exertion.
- Heart attack — unfortunately, this often is the first symptom.
Treatment approaches depend upon severity and symptoms. Work with your doctor in coming up with a plan that works for your individual case. A close partnership with an excellent physician is the best start to effective treatment.
- Medications for coronary heart disease include ACE inhibitors, blood thinners, beta-blockers, nitrates, calcium channel blockers, diuretics and statins.
- A variety of surgical, minimally invasive and other intervention procedures are treatments for coronary heart disease. Coronary intervention and diagnosis procedures include heart surgery, coronary bypass, stent angioplasty, coronary atherectomy and radiation implant procedure.
- Healthy lifestyle choices are crucial. Your diet is incredibly important. Eating a heart-healthy diet high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and minus all trans fat is a good step. Avoid added sodium, cut high sodium products and processed foods, and keep blood sugar under tight control. Diet is just one lifestyle factor needing consideration. Eliminate smoking, if applicable, and get plenty of exercise. These healthy habits — in concert — will aid the other treatment methods to work optimally.