Ischemic cardiac disease, or coronary heart disease, is a condition in which the heart's arteries, known as coronary arteries, do not supply the heart muscle with enough blood. The word ischemia, from which the term ischemic is derived, means an insufficient blood supply. Most often, ischemia in the heart is caused by the disease known as atherosclerosis, in which the arteries are narrowed by fatty deposits. While narrowed coronary arteries may cause chest pain on exertion, or angina, a total blockage can cause a heart attack, where part of the heart muscle dies off. Although hereditary factors affect the risk of developing ischemic cardiac disease, it may be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle.
The causes of ischemic cardiac disease are all those factors which increase a person's risk of developing atherosclerosis. They include smoking, high levels of cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure and diabetes. Being overweight and failing to take regular exercise can also make ischemic cardiac disease more likely to occur. Having a close relative with coronary heart disease also increases an individual's risk. If the disease develops, symptoms of angina typically include pain and tightness in the chest during exertion, while a heart attack may be experienced as breathlessness, nausea and sweating, together with more severe pain.
Treating ischemic cardiac disease can involve drugs, surgery, and the same lifestyle changes used to prevent the condition. Medications may be used to treat angina, such as nitroglycerin, which widens the coronary arteries and lowers the heart's oxygen requirement, leading to a decrease in chest pain. ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers also widen the coronary arteries and lower blood pressure. Diuretics lower blood pressure by reducing blood volume and widening arteries, and beta blockers slow the heart rate and increase blood flow. Aspirin can reduce the risk of a clot forming in the blood, and statins may be taken to lower the amounts of cholesterol and other fats, to stop atherosclerosis from progressing.
Sometimes surgery is required to open up blocked coronary arteries, and an artery may be opened up by inflating a balloon inside it or by cutting away the obstruction. A tube known as a stent may then be placed inside to keep the artery open. Preventing ischemic cardiac disease involves giving up smoking, taking regular exercise, losing weight and eating healthily. It is also important to make sure that conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes are adequately controlled.