What is Coronary Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease occurs as a result of a build up of fatty deposits, called atheroma, in the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart muscle itself. This build up of fatty deposits is known as atherosclerosis and causes the arteries to narrow, creating a blockage or interruption to the blood supply to the heart.
What are the risks associated with coronary heart disease?
If the blood supply to the heart muscle is restricted, this can cause angina. More importantly, if the coronary artery is completely blocked, a heart attack or myocardial infarction can occur.
Who can suffer from coronary heart disease?
Coronary heart disease is not uncommon and affects both men and women. The chance of suffering from coronary heart disease is increased significantly with smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, a lack of regular exercise, thrombosis and diabetes.
What are the symptoms of coronary heart disease?
Symptoms include chest pain or angina, breathlessness, palpitations, fainting or syncope, fluid retention, blue-tinged fingernails or lips known a cyanosis, and tiredness. However, these symptoms are not uncommon to other conditions and should be checked out by a doctor.
Unfortunately, the most common initial indicator of coronary heart disease is a heart attack.
What is the difference between angina and a heart attack?
Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease caused by the narrowing of the coronary arteries. It is often a mild uncomfortable feeling in the chest, similar to indigestion. A severe angina attack however can feel like heaviness, or tightness in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach. Symptoms usually pass within 10-15 minutes and can be relieved with medication such as a nitrate spray.
The symptoms of a heart attack are very similar to those of angina but last far longer than 10-15 minutes and are not relieved with medication. With a heart attack, unlike angina, patients can also look "ashen" with a blue tinge to the lips, sweat a lot, gasp for air and have a sense of impending doom. Medical help should be called immediately if a heart attack is suspected.
How can coronary heart disease be treated?
Coronary heart disease cannot be cured but the symptoms can be relieved and heart function improved with medication and lifestyle changes.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to widen or even replace the coronary arteries to improve blood flow to the heart muscle.