By Dr Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death worldwide. An estimated 3.8 million men and 3.4 million women die each year from CHD. It is basically a disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle. When they get blocked, blood containing nutrients and oxygen cannot get to that part of the heart leading to it becoming diseased.
These blood vessels are called coronary arteries and get blocked from the buildup of fatty material such as cholesterol and plaque deposits. This blockage is what is referred to as atherosclerosis and if left untreated, it can lead to a diseased heart known as CHD.
Patients with CHD are at high risk of getting chest pains and an enlarged heart or worse yet, they can suffer from a heart attack. Understanding the process that leads to CHD may help you to take preventive measures that can decrease your chances of becoming another CHD death statistic. We will discuss this deadly condition in detail today.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CHD?
The symptoms of CHD can be sudden but most often develop slowly over time. The main symptoms of CHD are:
• Chest pain (angina)
• Heart attacks
• Heart failure
You can also experience other symptoms, such as heart palpitations (fluttering), shortness of breath, weakness and many other rarer symptoms. Not everyone has the same symptoms and some people may not have any before CHD is diagnosed.
WHAT CAUSES CHD?
As stated earlier, CHD is caused from atherosclerosis, which occurs over time. Atherosclerosis can be caused by lifestyle factors and other conditions, such as:
• High cholesterol
• High blood pressure (hypertension)
• Sedentary lifestyle
WHAT FACTORS INCREASES YOUR RISK FOR ACQUIRING CHD?
The following factors increases your risk of getting CHD:
• High LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and low HDL, or “good” cholesterol
• Uncontrolled high blood pressure
• Lack of physical inactivity
• Older age
• Sex (Men are at higher risk but it evens off when women reach menopause)
• Family history of CHD
• Obesity (having a BMI greater than 25)
• Uncontrolled diabetes
• Uncontrolled stress, depression, and anger
• Poor diet
• Alcohol use
HOW IS CHD DIAGNOSED?
If your doctor feels you’re at risk of CHD, they may carry out a risk assessment. This involves asking about your medical and family history, your lifestyle and taking a blood test.
Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis of CHD, including:
• A treadmill stress test
• An Electrocardiogram (ECG)
• A CT scan
• An MRI scan
• A coronary angiogram
HOW IS CHD TREATED?
Coronary heart disease cannot be cured but treatment can help manage the symptoms and reduce the chances of problems, such as heart attacks.
Treatment can include:
• lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and stopping smoking
• Medicines to control atherosclerosis and other risk factors
• Angioplasty, where balloons and stents are used to treat narrow heart arteries
• Surgery to replace the damaged coronary artery
HOW CAN YOU LOWER YOUR RISK OF ACQUIRING CHD?
You can reduce your risk of getting CHD by making some simple lifestyle changes such as:
• Eating a healthy, balanced diet
• Being physically active
• Giving up smoking
• Controlling blood cholesterol and sugar levels
Keeping your heart healthy will also have other health benefits, such as helping reduce your risk of stroke and dementia. Adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risk of acquiring coronary heart disease.
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