Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when the arteries responsible for supplying oxygen-rich blood to the heart begin to narrow. This narrowing may be caused by a build up of deposits of cholesterol, also known as plaque, in addition to components of calcium and fatty material within the walls of the arteries. The process of this buildup is a condition known as atherosclerosis. As the narrowing progresses, adequate blood flow to the heart may be compromised, hindering its ability to pump normally. Worldwide, coronary heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death.
A number of risk factors have been identified as common contributors to coronary heart disease. In many cases, it is a hereditary disease, meaning that it runs in families. A preexisting disease, such as diabetes, may also predispose an individual to heart disease. High blood pressure is another risk factor, as is high cholesterol. Other factors such as being overweight, under stress, and smoking may all lead to the development of this disease.
Symptoms may vary significantly from individual to individual. One of the most common coronary heart disease symptoms is chest pain. Also known as angina, this symptom is generally a result of inadequate blood flow through the arteries of the heart. Chest pain that occurs only upon physical activity or in stressful environments and then subsides is called stable angina. Sudden chest pain, occurring suddenly and different in intensity and duration of any previous chest pain, is known as unstable angina and may be a warning sign of a heart attack.
Other common symptoms of this disease include weakness and dizziness. Palpitations may also be experienced. These are typically sensations of a irregular heart beat, such as a beat that is very strong, or too fast or too slow. Some people with this disease may also have shortness of breath and sweat excessively, even without great physical exertion.
Coronary heart disease can lead to other very serious health problems. A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, is one of the possible results of this disease. Particles of plaque that have built up in the walls of the arteries may rupture, causing a blood clot. These clots can block the arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart. If the arteries become completely blocked, a heart attack can occur.
Pain in the chest, jaw, up and down the left arm, and the back is a common symptom of a heart attack. Shortness of breath and palpitations may also be present. Some people may complain of sensations similar to those of indigestion. A heart attack may also induce nausea, vomiting, and weakness to the point of fainting. This condition has the potential to be life threatening, and the onset of any of these symptoms are cause to get medical attention immediately.
Heart failure is another condition that can develop from coronary heart disease. This condition occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. Swelling in the abdomen, legs, ankles, and feet are some common symptoms. Additionally, an individual with heart failure may also experience shortness of breath, fatigue, and irregular heartbeats. Most people with this condition are prescribed medications and advised on lifestyle changes which can greatly improve the quality of life.
Treatment for coronary heart disease will vary according to the severity of the symptoms and the presence of other health problems. Medication is most commonly prescribed as a first line of defense against heart disease. If it has caused a significant amount of damage to the heart, more advanced interventions such as surgery may be necessary. An individual showing any symptoms of coronary heart disease should consult a doctor at once for a complete examination and a proper diagnosis, so that any necessary treatment may be administered as soon as possible.