By Dr. Beth Paxton
All of our muscles need a continuous supply of oxygen carried by the blood and the heart is no exception. However, due to diet, age, and other factors such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking, our coronary arteries may become smaller or clogged. When the blood flow to the heart is restricted, it results in coronary heart disease, sometimes known as CHD. Angina occurs when not enough blood carrying oxygen can get through to the heart. This often causes a pain in the left arm or chest. When the blood flow is cut off completely, a heart attack occurs. Any part of the heart that is not receiving the oxygen it needs begins to die and permanent damage to the muscle can be done.
What are the symptoms of coronary heart disease?
Some people may not experience any symptoms. Others may feel short of breath or experience a mild discomfort in their chest area. Still others suffering from coronary heart disease experience a constant chest pain that may hinder their everyday activities.
Those that suffer from angina say they feel a pressure or heaviness on their chest. This can sometimes include a burning sensation or they may say it feels like their chest is being squeezed. Other symptoms associated with coronary heart disease include dizziness, queasiness, shortness of breath, and can include heart palpitations. Pain may spread to their neck, jaw, or arms.
If you suffer from angina, the doctor will try to diagnose what type you have â€“ stable or unstable. Just like the names, stable angina tends to occur at certain times such as after you exert yourself, after a large meal, or when you get upset. The pain lasts between one and five minutes and usually resting helps alleviate the symptoms. If you have no pattern as to when you experience the pain, it is known as unstable angina. This is the more severe type of the two.
Once the doctor establishes that you do have coronary heart disease, he may ask you to take some tests to see to what damage has been done. One test he may order is the electrocardiogram (ECG). This will show him the electrical activity of the heart. A stress test is normally done on a treadmill. This forces the heart to work harder, a time when problems often show up. Your blood pressure and heart rate will also be monitored while taking the stress test. A nuclear scanning involves the doctor inserting a small amount of radioactive material into your vein. He can then see damage done by using a scanning camera. Finally, a coronary angiography is a test where a catheter is inserted into an artery (usually in your arm or leg) and it films the heart while it pumps. The picture it takes is known as an angiogram.
What is the treatment for coronary heart disease?
That depends on the severity. If it is less severe, the doctor will probably suggest lifestyle changes. Many people do not care for this treatment because it involves giving up things they love. You will need to change your diet so it is lower in fat and cholesterol. You will also need to start on an exercise regiment as well. Even a small amount of exercise can lower your risks of a heart attack. Smokers can drastically reduce their chances of a heart attack when they quit smoking. Even if you have already suffered from one heart attack, stopping smoking can prevent another.
Those with more severe cases of coronary heart disease may need to undergo surgery. Coronary angioplasty is one type of surgery for coronary heart disease. Often referred to as balloon angioplasty, this involves a catheter going through the artery that is blocked. The balloon on the end is inflated to help open up the artery. If the artery cannot be opened, you will need a coronary artery bypass operation. In this, the surgeon removes a blood vessel from another part of the body and graphs it onto the blocked artery. The blood is then able to go around the blockage by way of this new vessel. Even after having these surgeries, you will be asked to change your lifestyle.
If you experience any type of chest pain, it is imperative that you visit your doctor to get a checkup. Chances may be it is nothing life threatening, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
About the Author: Dr. Beth Paxton is a general health practictioner providing helpful information for families and patients with heart disease.