December 20th, 2019 | Updated on March 3rd, 2020
Outline: What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Also called Coronary heart disease and Atherosclerotic heart disease, Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a crucial condition that affects the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the heart.
Coronary artery disease is a condition wherein the coronary arteries are damaged or diseased and is one of the most common types of heart diseases affecting approximately 16.5 million Americans and is also one of the leading causes of death among American men and women alike.
The reason for the damage is due to the deposition of cholesterol-containing plaques in the coronary arteries. This accumulation gradually leads to inflammation and then coronary artery disease.
Due to the accretion of plaque, the coronary arteries cramp up or narrow down, thus reducing the flow of blood to the heart.
This decrease in blood flow leads to chest pain, breathing trouble, and later to other coronary artery disease symptoms. If the arteries are completely blocked, that can even lead to a fatal heart attack.
The build-up of plaque and coronary artery disease doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long while, maybe decades, for the symptoms to actually show up.
In most cases, Coronary artery disease is only diagnosed after the patient suffers from a major blockage or a heart attack. Coronary artery disease leads to an insufficient flow of blood in the arteries and thus to the heart.
Unmonitored CAD can lead to a heart attack. Arteries are the kind of blood vessels that are smooth and elastic.
But when the plaque accumulates on its inside walls, the arteries lose their elasticity and become rigid and narrow and as a result curb, the flow of blood to the heart muscles refraining it from sufficient oxygen supply. When the plaque breaks off, it can cause sudden cardiac death or heart attack.
Symptoms Of CAD
As the plaque builds up over time, the coronary arteries narrow down, leading to a case of insufficient blood flow to the heart. Initially, not many visible signs or symptoms are seen in a coronary heart disease patient.
But as the plaque accumulation increases and the blood flow is drastically decreased, certain signs and symptoms are exhibited, especially during a heavy workout or activity. Few of the commonly observed coronary artery disease symptoms are:
1. Chest pain Ar Angina
The chest cavity of the patient starts feeling suffocated or as if the chest was being pressurized. Often observed in the middle or left side of the chest, angina or, tightness in the chest usually occurs when provoked by the stress of any kind.
This pain usually doesn’t last for long and diminishes when the person is out of the stressful situation or stops the physical activity.
The CAD chest pain is sometimes experienced as a burning or crushing sensation in the chest and not actual pain. Most people make the mistake of confusing this pain to be heartburn or indigestion.
2. Shortness Of breath
When the heart is not supplied with enough amount of blood, it struggles to pump and can obviously make it hard for the patient to breathe. This breathing trouble can lead to fatigue.
3. Heart Attack
When the blood flow to the heart drops to a bare minimum, the heart struggles to carry out its functions, and this condition leads to a very fatal and dreaded situation called a heart attack.
4. Shoulder And Arm Pain
When the heart refrains from functioning normally, pain or discomfort is felt in the shoulders and arms.
As the oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart reduces, the rest of the body, including the brain, is also deprived of enough blood and oxygen leading to dizziness or lightheadedness.
Coronary artery disease symptoms may vary in men and women. In women, angina or chest pain is often observed to a brief and acute pain than in men and is often experienced in the neck, back, or arm.
Women also might get vomiting or nausea, jaw pain, and back pain as a symptom of coronary artery disease. However, women during their menstrual ages are less likely to be affected by heart disease as in comparison to men.
Treatment Options: Is Surgery Necessary?
In some cases, medication alone can better the condition, but if the disease has too badly affected the heart or if the patient suffers from a heart attack, surgery or other treatments like Balloon Angioplasty or enhanced external counterpulsation is prescribed by the cardiologist.
A coronary artery graft bypass surgery is conducted to increase the flow of blood to the heart by borrowing blood vessels from other body parts and the damaged artery is bypassed or blocked, thus fuelling up the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the heart.
Life After Surgery: Precautions And Lifestyle Changes
The patient might need the aid of external oxygen supply to breathe immediately after the surgery. The oxygen tubes are removed after a while when the doctors feel like the patient can breathe on their own.
It takes almost two months of utmost care that includes lifestyle changes and refraining from extreme physical activities, including driving for the patient to heal completely and get back to a normal life.
Coronary artery disease is mostly a lifestyle disease. So a person suffering from CAD is firstly and importantly advised a lifestyle change once diagnosed. Few of the lifestyle changes to keep coronary artery disease away are:
- Quit smoking and alcohol consumption
- Follow a healthy diet free of processed and trans-fat-containing food and low on sugar and salt
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Monitor diabetes
Though a very common and fatal disease, coronary artery disease can be kept away by following a healthy lifestyle and giving priority to heart health.
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