Coronary Artery Disease

The heart beats non-stop; even when you are busy reading this piece of information, your heart is busy pumping blood to the organs of your body, providing them all the required oxygen and nutrition. What if the heart itself, does not get enough oxygen and nutrients to work properly? Yes, it would come to a standstill. Sounds scary, but it may happen if we don’t protect our heart from various disease conditions, one such is coronary heart disease.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), coronary heart disease (CHD) kills more than 7 million people each year. WHO also predicts that in 2020, 11.1 million people will die from coronary heart disease.

Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Coronary artery disease results when coronary arteries become narrow and clogged due to buildup of fat deposits (plaques) on the inner walls of these arteries which is termed as atherosclerosis. When plaques form inside the coronary arteries and narrow the passage, heart muscles are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This can cause chest pain (angina). When blood supply to a portion of the heart muscle is blocked completely, the portion of the heart muscle may stop working, resulting in heart attack.

Cholesterol is a waxy and fat like substance produced by the liver in the body and available in animal based foods. Your body requires cholesterol to function properly and is available in all parts of your body. If there is too much of cholesterol in the blood, it can stick to the inner walls of the arteries as deposits of fat called plaques and these plaques can narrow and even block the arteries.

Cholesterol is of two types. Good cholesterol also called as high density lipoprotein (HDL) and bad cholesterol termed as low density lipoprotein (LDL). Too less of HDL and too much of LDL can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke (no blood supply to the brain). LDL delivers cholesterol to the cells and HDL carries cholesterol from your cells to the liver.

You need to keep the cholesterol levels within healthy limits. The desirable complete fasting level of total cholesterol in the blood is 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter of blood). A HDL level of 60 mg/dl is considered as safe against heart disease. A LDL level of less than 100 mg/dl is considered optimal. You need to consult your doctor as to which LDL level you should maintain and suitable for you depending on the risk factors.

Triglycerides are another form of cholesterol which the body uses for energy. Eating foods with lot of saturated fats and carbohydrates elevates the levels of triglycerides in the blood which can increase the risk of heart disease. High triglycerides can lead to diabetes, inflammation of pancreas and chronic kidney disease. Triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dl is considered normal.

Coronary heart disease is usually caused by a build-up of fat deposits in the wall of the arteries in the heart. The risk of you having the disease increases if you have any one of the following points:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol level
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Below is a list of a few coronary artery disease symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Indigestion
  • Heart burn
  • Pain in the left shoulder, arm, neck, jaw or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue

Other symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Palpitations (irregular heart beat)
  • Fast heart beats
  • Numbness in the chest area
  • Tiredness
  • Breathlessness

A change in lifestyle is necessary to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Include vegetables and fruits in your diet. Seek advice about the food you need to take from qualified personnel. Undertake regular exercise as advised as it makes your heart stronger and reduces the risk of heart disease. Resort to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for 4-6 days a week. Nicotine increases your blood pressure and makes your heart beat faster. Consult your doctor as to the ways how you can stop smoking.

If you suffer from high blood pressure, follow the instructions of your doctor and keep your blood pressure within limits. If you are advised medications, ensure to take them regularly. Check with your doctor whether you can take aspirin daily. Aspirin is useful for the prevention of CAD. Vitamin E may lower the risk of heart attack and some other vitamins provide protection against CAD. Consult your doctor as to which vitamins you can take.

But do not get disheartened if these measures do not work for you. May be your body needs more time to respond to the changes you have made. Give more time. Your doctor is the best judge as he watches your progress. Discuss your concerns with your doctor. If your cholesterol levels do not improve in six months to one year, let your doctor know about it. May be you need changes in your medications or need medicines to lower your cholesterol. You need to continue your healthy lifestyle so that the medications work.

One of the treatments recommended by the doctors for coronary artery disease is a coronary artery bypass graft. This is a type of surgery which improves the flow of blood in the arteries. In this surgery the blood vessel is removed from one place and placed in the area where there is a narrow flow of blood creating a bypass to the blockages and restoring the blood flow in the heart muscle. Coronary artery bypass graft is performed for people suffering from severe coronary artery disease.

Coronary angioplasty is another procedure recommended by the doctors for the people suffering from coronary atherosclerosis. This procedure is performed to widen the arteries or veins which are narrow and this is performed with the help of a balloon catheter. The balloon catheter is passed into the narrowed area and is inflamed to a particular size. This helps in the flow of blood in the heart.

The best defense against cardiovascular heart disease is your lifestyle. Following a healthy lifestyle may help you to keep the coronary arteries healthy and reduce the risk factors for coronary heart disease. A heart-healthy lifestyle does not require a drastic change; but small changes incorporated into your daily life can go a long way in keeping your heart beating healthy.