Coronary heart disease is the most common form of heart disease and a leading cause of death in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. It is characterized by inadequate circulation in the blood vessels of the heart muscle, or myocardium. Coronary heart disease may be asymptomatic, but there are many possible complications and symptoms of coronary heart disease.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease include pain or heaviness in the chest, fatigue, shortness of breath, and myocardial infarction or heart attack. Chest pain often takes the form of angina pectoris, severe pain caused by lack of oxygen, or ischemia, in the heart muscles and surrounding tissues, caused by insufficient blood circulation. In addition to pain, angina can also manifest as a feeling of tightness, heaviness, pressure, or burning.
Any of the symptoms of coronary heart disease should be addressed by a physician immediately. Angina signals the possibility of heart attack and is a medical emergency. However, about one fourth of all heart attacks are not accompanied by any symptoms, including pain or discomfort in the chest. Heart attack, the most serious of the symptoms of coronary heart disease, is caused by the interruption of blood flow to the heart muscles, causing heart cells to die. In addition to angina, heart attack may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and sweating.
There are a number of risk factors for the development of coronary heart disease, including cigarette smoking, stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, and chest x-rays. Coronary heart disease can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes, as well as surgery if needed. Medication can be prescribed to lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "bad" cholesterol, to lower blood pressure, and to thin the blood. Daily low-dose aspirin, available over-the-counter, can be helpful in preventing heart attack and stroke.
People experiencing symptoms of coronary heart disease can improve their prognosis by making lifestyle changes including weight control, regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and quitting smoking. Reducing the amount of animal products in the diet while increasing plant-based foods can help lower one's risk of heart attack or stroke. Excessive salt and processed foods should also be avoided.
In cases in which lifestyle changes and medication are not enough to treat coronary heart disease, there are a number of surgical treatment options. Angioplasty uses a balloon catheter to widen constricted blood vessels and break up obstructions. Angioplasty may also involve the placement of a stent or tube to hold the blood vessel open, promoting blood flow. Coronary artery bypass, in which a blood vessel from elsewhere in the body is grafted onto the coronary artery of the heart to bypass an obstruction, is used in more serious cases.