What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
The arteries, which start out smooth and elastic, get plaque on their inner walls, which can make them more rigid and narrowed. This restricts blood flow to your heart, which can then become starved of oxygen.
The plaque could rupture, leading to a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
How Does Coronary Artery Disease Develop?
As more of these inflammatory cells join in, along with cholesterol, the plaque increases, both pushing the artery walls outward and growing inward. That makes the vessels narrower.
Eventually, a narrowed coronary artery may develop new blood vessels that go around the blockage to get blood to the heart. However, if you’re pushing yourself or stressed, the new arteries may not be able to bring enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
What Is Ischemia?
Cardiac ischemia is when plaque and fatty matter narrow the inside of an artery so much, it cannot supply enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can cause heart attacks -- with or without chest pain and other symptoms.
Ischemia happens most during:
Coronary artery disease can get to a point where ischemia happens even when you’re at rest. This is a medical emergency and may lead to a heart attack. If this happens to you, call your doctor or go to the emergency room. Ischemia can happen without warning in anyone with heart disease, although it is more common in people with diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?
Angina can be described as a:
- Painful feeling
Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the:
- Left shoulder
Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, skipped beats, or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest)
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
How Is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor can tell if you have coronary artery disease after:
- He learns your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors
- A physical exam.
- Diagnostic tests, including an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), echocardiogram, exercise stress tests, electron beam (ultrafast) CT scans, cardiac catheterization, and others. These tests help your doctor know the extent of your coronary heart disease, its effect on your heart, and the best treatment for you.
How Is Coronary Artery Disease Treated?
It can involve:
Lifestyle changes: If you smoke, quit. Avoid processed foods and adopt a low-trans-fat, low-salt, and low-sugar diet. Keep your blood sugar in control if you have diabetes. Exercise regularly (but talk to your doctor before you starting an exercise program).
Medications: If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medications may be needed. The drugs you’ll take depend on your situation. If you’ve been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, you’ll probably be on aspirin and a statin, if not other things.
Surgery and other procedures: Common ones to treat coronary artery disease include:
All of these boost blood supply to your heart, but they don’t cure coronary heart disease. You’ll still need to lower your chances of having heart disease.
Doctors are also studying innovative ways to treat heart disease, including:
Angiogenesis. This involves things like stem cells and other genetic material being given through the vein, or directly into damaged heart tissue. It’s done to help new blood vessels grow and go around the clogged ones.
EECP (enhanced external counterpulsation). Folks who have chronic angina, but aren’t helped by nitrate medications or don’t qualify for some procedures, may find relief with this. It’s an outpatient procedure that uses cuffs on the legs that inflate and deflate to boost the blood supply to coronary arteries.
What to Do if You Have a Coronary Emergency
Learn to recognize your heart disease symptoms and what causes them.
Call your doctor if you begin to feel new symptoms or if the ones you’re used to become more frequent or severe. If you or someone you are with has chest pain, especially if there are also things like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, nausea, or sweating, call 911 for help.
If you’ve been prescribed nitroglycerin for chest pain, call your doctor or have someone take you to the emergency room if you’re still feeling pain after two doses (at 5-minute intervals) or after 15 minutes.
Emergency personnel may tell you to chew an aspirin to help break up a possible blood clot.