Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary arteries carry blood to the heart, thereby supplying oxygen and nutrients required for it to function. Coronary artery disease(CAD) indicates damage to these arteries. The condition is characterized by the narrowing or hardening of the arteries due to the accumulation of cholesterol and other substances, known as plaque, inside the arteries.
Coronary heart disease often develops over decades, as more and more plaque gets accumulated within the arteries. So symptoms usually show up during the later stages when there is a significant amount of blockage. CAD may cause severe chest pain, breathlessness or a heart attack in patients.
What are the causes of CAD?
The heart receives its own supply of oxygen-rich blood from the coronary arteries. There are two major coronary arteries namely left main coronary artery and right main coronary artery, which branch off from the aorta.
The most common cause of CAD is the hardening of arteries due to cholesterol plaque buildup, known as atherosclerosis. This leads to complete or partial blockage of arteries thereby reducing blood flow to the heart. Reduced blood flow to the heart can trigger off symptoms of CAD. Other factors leading to atherosclerosis are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High stress
- Unhealthy diet
What are the risk factors associated with CAD?
- Age- Damage and narrowing of arteries generally show up as symptoms as age advances.
- Sex- According to studies, men are at higher risk of coronary artery disease.
- Family history- Family history plays an important role in a person’s probability of developing heart diseases.
- Smoking- Both active and passive smoking increases your chance of developing CAD.
- High blood pressure- High blood pressure levels, if uncontrolled can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries.
- High blood cholesterol levels- A low level of HDL cholesterol, known as the ‘good cholesterol’ and a high level of LDL cholesterol known as the ‘bad cholesterol’, can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
- Lack of physical activity
- High stress
- Unhealthy diet
How to diagnose CAD and what are the treatments available?
Diagnosis of CAD begins with a study of your medical history followed by physical examination and routine blood tests. Your physician will then perform one or more of the following tests:
- ECG or Electrocardiogram- An ECG records the rhythm and activity of the heart thereby detecting abnormalities if any.
- Echocardiogram- An echocardiogram or echo is a sonogram of the heart. It evaluates how blood is being pumped through the chambers and valves of the heart.
- Stress test- Stress test is done to evaluate how your heart performs during physical activity. The patient is asked to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while heart activity is monitored and measured.
- Cardiac catheterization- In this procedure, your doctor injects a special dye into the coronary arteries through a catheter. The dye helps in highlighting blockages in the x rays images.
Coronary artery disease may be treated in one of the following ways:
- Angioplasty- It is an endovascular procedure to widen the arteries that have been blocked by plaque deposits.
- Coronary artery bypass surgery- This is an open heart surgical procedure where a surgeon uses blood vessels from other areas of the body to bypass the damaged arteries.
Making healthy lifestyle changes are the primary steps to better heart health and best defense against coronary artery disease and its complications.