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Heart Disease 

Coronary Heart Disease 

Definition

When the major blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients become damaged or diseased, this is called coronary heart disease.

The arteries become damaged when there is a cholesterol build-up, which eventually turns into plaque. This narrows the arteries and decreases blood flow to your heart. If coronary artery disease is not treated and an artery becomes completely or even partially blocked, it will often result in a heart attack.

Symptoms

When your coronary artery narrows, it is unable to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The most common symptoms you will experience are:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart attack

Causes

Research shows that coronary heart disease begins when the inner layers of the coronary arteries are damaged. These include but are not limited to:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of sugar in the blood e.g. diabetes or insulin resistance
  • Lack of exercise
  • Blood vessel inflammation

If the inner walls of an artery are damaged, a plaque build-up (made up of cholesterol) will accumulate where the artery has been injured. This process is called atherosclerosis. Overtime, the plaque will harden. If the plaque ruptures, blood cells called platelets will try to repair the injured section but may clump together and cause a blood clot, which can lead to a heart attack. 

Diagnosis 

In order to diagnose coronary heart disease, a doctor will ask questions about your personal and family medical history, order blood tests and conduct a physical examination. Further testing may be required which can include: 

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac catheterization or angiogram
  • Heart scan 

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with coronary heart disease your doctor may advise you to make lifestyle changes. Depending on the severity, you may also need to take certain medications or have a procedure to improve the problem.

Lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce stress

Medication:

  • Cholesterol managing drugs including statins
  • Aspirin
  • Beta blockers
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)

Medical procedures

  • Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) - angioplasty and stent insertion
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery

Prevention

To reduce the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease, you can do the following:

  • Keep your blood pressure in check
  • Monitor your cholesterol level and take medication if it is high
  • Remain in a healthy weight range
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage stress levels
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly

There are some risk factors of coronary heart disease that cannot be controlled. These include age, gender and family history. It is important to find out whether you have a family history of coronary heart disease and have regular check-ups with your doctor if you do. 

Research into Coronary Heart Disease 

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