LIVING WITH HEART DISEASE
Millions of Americans are living with heart disease. The most common form of heart disease is Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD. In the United States, CAD is the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to recent trends, half of healthy 40 year old males and one in three healthy 40 year old females will develop CAD1.
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary Artery Disease is a condition in which the arteries that supply oxygen rich blood to your heart build up plaque over time. This plaque causes blockages to form in the arteries. Eventually, this reduces the blood flow to the heart muscle, a condition known as ischemia. Ischemia simply means there is not enough oxygen supplied to the heart to keep up with the needs of this hard working muscle. The body may react to this reduced blood flow by causing angina or even a heart attack.
What is Angina?
Angina, or chest pain, may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing in your chest. This discomfort may occur at rest, when walking or climbing stairs, after a heavy meal, or under conditions of extreme stress or cold weather. This pain may also radiate to your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. If the blood flow to the heart is improved, it may be possible to reverse ischemia.
It is important to remember that many people do not display any symptoms at all. This is known as silent CAD. Often times, CAD is not diagnosed until a heart attack or heart failure occurs. Heart attacks occur when, overtime, an area of the heart muscle is unable to receive oxygen rich blood. This causes permanent damage to the heart muscle. A heart attack is serious should be treated immediately.
What Happens if CAD Remains Untreated?
If left untreated, Coronary Artery Disease can weaken the heart muscle and lead to arrhythmias, heart failure, or a heart attack. Arrhythmias are disturbances with your heart’s rhythm. Many arrhythmias can be treated and controlled with medication. Heart Failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to efficiently pump blood to your body. A heart attack causes permanent damage to the heart muscle or even death.
Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease
There are many risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing Coronary Artery Disease. Cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, exercise, age and family history are all taken into account. Physicians base their diagnosis on the above factors as well as the results of diagnostic tests. These tests may include baseline electrocardiogram (EKG), exercise stress test, echocardiogram (ultrasound), and/or nuclear stress test.
Treatment for CAD
When it comes to your health always consider your options. Understand what treatments are available. Together with your physician, assess what is the best option for you.
Treatments for CAD may include lifestyle changes such as exercise, stress reduction, or diet modifications. Physicians often prescribe pharmacological agents, or perform bypass surgery (CABG), angioplasty or stenting when necessary and appropriate. ECP therapy is often prescribed for those unable or unwilling to undergo surgical intervention. The goal of these treatments may be any of the following: relieving symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath), reducing risk factors in an effort to stop plaque build up and eventually occlusions, lower the risk of clots, widen or bypass clogged arteries, form or grow collateral circulation, and/or prevent complications associated with CAD.
1 Rosamond w, Flegal K, Friday G, et al (February 2007). “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics- 2007 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee.” Circulation 115(5): e69-171.