Understanding Coronary Artery Disease: Basic Info for Patients

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES

2 min read

human heart illustration
human heart illustration
Understanding Coronary Artery Disease: A Simplified Explanation

Defining Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is a health condition that heightens the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks. Individuals with this condition experience blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the heart due to the accumulation of fatty deposits. Alternative terms for this are "coronary heart disease" or simply "heart disease."

What are Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms ?

Symptoms of coronary artery disease are not always present. When they do occur, they are typically triggered by physical activity. These symptoms can involve:

- Pain, pressure, or discomfort centralized in the chest

- Sensations of discomfort or tingling in various parts of the upper body, such as arms, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen

- Feeling short of breath

Unmasking Heart Attack Symptoms

The onset of coronary artery disease symptoms might coincide with a heart attack. This emphasizes the importance of recognizing heart attack indicators.

Heart attack symptoms are:

- Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort

- Discomfort or tingling extending to upper body regions like arms, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen

- Breathing difficulties

- Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, or burping

- Cold, sweaty skin or profuse sweating

- Irregular or accelerated heartbeat

- Lightheadedness or dizziness

When these symptoms persist for over 10 minutes or fluctuate repeatedly, prompt action is essential. Contact emergency services immediately and avoid from attempting to reach the hospital without assistance.

It's worth noting that chest pain might also occur among individuals without ongoing heart attacks, often during activities such as walking or ascending stairs. If you experience new or different chest pain, prompt medical consultation is advised.

Diagnostic Insights

Diagnostic tests for coronary artery disease encompass:

- Electrocardiogram ("ECG"): Evaluates heart's electrical activity

- Stress Test (Exercise Test): Combines physical activity with ECG to assess blood flow to the heart; medication might be utilized to simulate exercise

- Echocardiogram: Utilizes sound waves to visualize the heart's rhythmic function

- Cardiac Catheterization ("Cardiac Cath"): A thin tube is inserted via a blood vessel into the heart to introduce dye visible on X-rays, revealing potential artery blockages

Addressing Coronary Artery Disease

Key approaches to manage coronary artery disease encompass:

1. Lifestyle Adjustments:

- Quit smoking if applicable

- Consume fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods; reduce sugary foods

- Engage in regular physical activity

- Achieve a healthy weight if overweight

2. Medication:

- Medications play a pivotal role in managing heart disease. They mitigate heart attack risks and promote longevity.

- Adherence to prescribed medication is crucial.

- Possible medications include statins (cholesterol reducers), blood pressure-lowering drugs, anti-clotting agents, and diabetes treatment.

3. Interventions:

- Some patients might benefit from interventions such as stent placement or bypass surgery.

- Stent procedure: A tube is inserted into blocked artery; a balloon expands the blockage, and a mesh tube (stent) is left in place to keep the artery open.

- Bypass surgery: A blood vessel segment is used to re-route blood flow around a blockage, restoring blood supply to the heart.

Informed Decision-Making

For patients considering stent placement or bypass surgery, it's essential to:

- Understand procedure benefits in terms of longevity, heart attack risk reduction, and overall well-being

- Be aware of potential procedure risks

- Evaluate potential outcomes if the procedure is declined