Overview – What is it?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is also known as coronary heart disease and it occurs when blood vessels supplying oxygen, blood and nutrients to the heart are damaged and diseased causing decreased blood flow to the heart.
This is caused by cholesterol deposits, inflammation and smoking, among other causes. Some of the symptoms that can occur as a result of coronary artery disease are chest pain, shortness of breath and pain in the arms or shoulders.
The diagnosis of coronary artery disease is done through tests like the electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and cardiac catherization.
The treatment for this condition can include medication or procedures such as coronary artery bypass and balloon angioplasty.
Preventing yourself from getting this condition could involve making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Causes – What causes it?
The main cause of this condition is the build-up of cholesterol in the arteries that is referred to as atherosclerosis, which causes partial or complete blockage to the arteries reducing blood flow to the heart. The other causes or risk factors for CAD are:
- Smoking: This increases the risk of getting CAD as compared to people who do not smoke
- Alcohol use: Excessive consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of CAD.
- Other health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes: Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to hardening and thickening of the arteries. Diabetes type 2 is linked to CAD as this condition has similar risk factors to those of diabetes. Sleep apnea and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, can also increase CAD risk.
- Overweightness and obesity: Having excess weight strongly increases the risk of CAD.
- Lack of physical activity: Being physically inactive also increases the risk of this condition.
- Consumption of food with high amounts of fat, salt or sugar: This is what can lead to blockage of the arteries which is what leads to CAD.
- High stress: High levels of stress can damage the arteries and increase the risk of getting CAD.
- Family history: If a close family member has had heart disease, that increases your risk of developing CAD.
- Age: Older people from the age of 65 and above are at a higher risk of getting CAD than younger people.
- Gender: Men are at a greater risk of getting the condition than women. Women’s risk increases after menopause.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Decreased blood flow due to CAD may not cause any symptoms, at first. However, as the condition progresses, these symptoms may be experienced:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Tightness and heaviness of the chest
- Faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
- Heart attack
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
The diagnosis for coronary artery disease begins with finding out a patient’s medical history, carrying out a physical exam and doing a routine blood test. After this, diagnostic tests are done, including:
- Electrocardiogram: This refers to a test done to record electrical signals as they travel through the heart by wearing a portable monitor for a day and carrying on with your daily activities.
- Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to produce images of the heart to show how all its parts are pumping blood and enable a doctor to identify whether there are any parts that are damaged.
- Cardiac catheterization and angiogram: In this test, a dye is injected into the arteries using a catheter and by this the doctor is able to view any narrowed spots and blockages of arteries, through an x-ray.
- Heart scan: Using a computerised tomography (CT) scan, images of the inside of the heart are taken which can show calcium deposits in the arteries that can be causing narrowing of the arteries. A substantial amount of calcium may indicate that a person has CAD.
- Stress test: During this test, a person is asked to exercise on a treadmill or on a stationary bicycle and the heart activity is monitored. Medication to stimulate the heart can also be used. This test is often used for people who develop symptoms mostly during exercising.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for coronary artery disease is based on lifestyle changes, use of medications or surgical procedures.
- Medications: Certain medications such as aspirin and beta blockers may be used in the treatment of coronary artery disease. Aspirin acts as a blood thinner while beta blockers slow down heart rate and decrease blood pressure.
- Surgical Procedures: These are done to restore and improve flow of blood. They include:
- Coronary artery bypass surgery: This surgery is done to create a graft that bypasses the coronary arteries using a blood vessel from another body part allowing blood to flow around the blocked coronary artery.
- Angioplasty and stent placement: A catheter is inserted into the narrowed artery and a wire, fitted with a deflated balloon, is passed through it to the narrowed area of the artery after which the balloon is inflated pushing deposits against the artery walls.
- Laser surgery: This procedure involves making several tiny holes in the heart muscles which encourages the formation of new blood vessels.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Prevention against CAD mainly relies on living a healthy lifestyle by doing the following:
- Not smoking
- Controlling cholesterol levels in your blood
- Controlling health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
- Eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and high in vegetables and fruits
- Limiting consumption of alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Remaining physically active by exercising regularly