Heart disease is a blanket term used to describe many illnesses of the heart and coronary arteries. Although many people use the terms "coronary diseases" and "heart diseases" interchangeably to describe the many types of heart diseases, the term "coronary disease" actually is descriptive of a limited number of ailments that affect the coronary circulation within cardiac muscle and the surrounding tissues. There are two main types of coronary disease, including coronary artery disease (CAD) and coronary heart disease (CHD).
Coronary artery disease is the more common of these diseases and stands as the leading cause of death of both men and women in the United States. Also known as coronary arteriosclerosis and coronary atherosclerosis, the disease happens when the arteries that bring blood to the heart become narrow and hard because of the buildup of cholesterol and plaque inside, which is called atherosclerosis. When this happens, the heart can't get adequate amounts of oxygen or blood, which leads to chest pain or heart attack. With time, CAD can weaken the heart and cause increased risk of arrhythmia and heart failure. Arrhythmia is a change in the normal heartbeat rhythm, and heart failure occurs when the heart is not strong enough to pump blood adequately throughout the entire body.
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Coronary heart disease occurs when the coronary circulation system is unable to supply adequate oxygen and blood to the heart and surrounding tissues. It can occur as a result of CAD but also can be caused by other conditions as well. With more than 450,000 deaths in the U.S. alone each year, it is important to consider risk factors for the illness. Those who smoke, have diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia are at a higher risk to develop CHD than those who do not. People who tend to be very competitive, controlling or anxious or who do not cope well with stress also have been found to be at a higher risk.
CHD and CAD often can progress asymptomatically, with little or no warning until damage has been done. For those who do have signs and symptoms of one of the coronary diseases, however, it is helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Heaviness in the chest, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, angina, dyspnea and myocardial infarction often are warning signs of the disease. Someone who has these signs, symptoms or risk factors should talk to his or her medical care provider immediately or go to an emergency care facility.
Lifestyle changes can be helpful in the prevention and treatment of coronary diseases. Weight control, exercise and a healthy diet with more vegetables and fruits and less meat are important for coronary health. For those who smoke, quitting is highly recommended to significantly decrease risk factor. There are medications to help lower cholesterol, such as statins that decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Nitrogycerine, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and calcium channel blockers also are prescribed to treat coronary diseases. Many doctors recommend that those who are at risk or who suspect that they might be having a heart attack take aspirin — daily for therapeutic reduction of risk and at the onset of symptoms for suspicion of heart attack.
Surgical interventions are also quite common in the diagnosis and treatment of coronary diseases. Angioplasty, stent insertion and coronary artery bypass are all types of surgery associated with the successful treatment of these diseases. Left untreated, CAD and CHD can cause permanent physical damage or death.