Understanding coronary artery disease
No matter your age or stage of life, you need to take your health to heart. This starts by being aware of the health conditions that can do serious harm to your heart. One such condition is called coronary artery disease. Also known as CAD, coronary artery disease is a form of heart disease that occurs when your coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that provide your heart with oxygen-rich blood, become blocked by a buildup of plaque. With time and without treatment, coronary artery disease causes chest pain, a heart attack, or heart failure. While CAD may be common, it doesn’t have to happen to you. To prevent it, you need to put your heart into taking care of yours. This starts by understanding coronary artery disease causes, as well as coronary artery disease symptoms, prevention, and options for coronary artery disease treatment. You can reduce your risk of coronary artery disease by simply showing your heart some love.
Keep your finger on the pulse of coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in the United States. The condition affects more than 16 million Americans over the age of 20. In a case of CAD, the walls of the coronary arteries carrying blood to your heart get clogged with a sticky buildup of plaque, which is made of fat and cholesterol. As more and more plaque builds up, it limits how much blood is able to reach your heart until the coronary artery becomes completely blocked. This process is known as atherosclerosis. Over time, coronary artery disease causes serious heart problems or a heart attack. However, not all cases of coronary artery disease are the same. There are two coronary artery disease types with differences based on the way they develop. Stable ischemic heart disease is the chronic form that causes the blood vessels to slowly narrow over time. The more sudden of the coronary artery disease types is called acute coronary syndrome, which occurs when the plaque in the coronary artery abruptly ruptures and causes a blood clot that blocks blood to the heart, resulting in a heart attack.
Are you at risk for coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease can happen to anyone at any time, including you or someone you love. Several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. By knowing your risk, you may be able to reduce it. The main risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Low “good” HDL cholesterol
- An unhealthy diet
- Little physical activity
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Men over age 45
- Women over age 55
- Family history of heart disease
Vital signs and symptoms
At first, coronary artery disease causes barely any symptoms, so it often goes unnoticed. But over time as your arteries narrow and your heart has to work harder to carry oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, you may start to notice several coronary artery disease symptoms. The most common coronary artery disease symptoms among both men and women include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in the arm or shoulders, dizziness, heart palpitations, and fatigue. Women may also experience additional symptoms, such as nausea, crushing chest pressure, pain in the back or shoulders, vomiting, and jaw pain.
Treating and beating coronary artery disease
If you notice any symptoms of coronary artery disease, you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor regarding your personal risk. Only then can your doctor review your medical history, perform a physical examination, and run some basic tests to diagnose possible problems. If you’re diagnosed with CAD, there are many coronary artery disease treatment options, depending on your health condition, your risk, and your current sense of well-being. Coronary artery disease treatment typically includes some combination of lifestyle changes like exercise and a heart-healthy diet, along with medication and surgery.
Life-saving prevention tips
While a case of CAD can’t always be prevented, it’s never too late to reduce your risk. There are several ways to lower your risk of developing coronary artery disease, as well as manage the condition, including:
- Stop smoking
- Get high blood pressure under control
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Take prescribed medications to help manage any symptoms
By understanding coronary artery disease and having a change of heart about your habits, you can take the steps to help reduce your risk and keep living the life you love.