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Coronary Heart Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

In this lesson, we will look at what causes coronary heart disease. We will learn about symptoms associated with this disease as well as treatment options.

Heart

Blood is pumped through the body by the heart. The coronary arteries carry blood to the heart muscle to provide it with oxygen and nutrients so it can continue to work and pump blood throughout the entire body. You could compare it to your car. The fuel in your car supplies the motor to make it run the same way the coronary arteries feed the heart to keep it pumping. Our entire body relies on our heart pumping blood to keep it alive. So what if our pump isn't getting enough 'gas'?

Fueling Car
Fueling Car

Coronary Heart Disease

In coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries become narrowed, and the heart muscle isn't receiving enough blood and nutrients. This is similar to your car not receiving enough gas to keep it running smoothly. If the heart isn't receiving enough blood, it can slow the heart down or it could stop. Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. So what causes the arteries to become narrowed?

Plaque builds up in your arteries causing a narrowed artery. Think about the pipes below your sink. Sludge and other materials may build up in the pipe making the pipe narrowed. The narrowed pipe affects the flow of water through the pipe the same way the plaque affects the blood flow through the artery. What happens if the heart isn't receiving adequate blood flow?

Plaque
Plaque

Symptoms

In the early stages of heart disease, sometimes a person may not experience any symptoms to indicate that there is a problem. However, a person will often have obvious symptoms. The most common symptom associated with coronary heart disease is chest pain. Chest pain occurs because the heart is not receiving enough blood and oxygen. Chest pain has some common characteristics. It might feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest, and you may feel pain in other areas as well such as the neck, arm, stomach, or upper back. The pain usually occurs with activity. This makes sense if you think about the car analogy again. If you are driving faster or driving up steep hills, your car will use more gas. If you are active, your heart is working harder and needing more blood and oxygen, but due to the decreased blood flow, the heart isn't getting the increased blood it needs, and pain occurs.

Other symptoms that may be experienced with coronary heart disease include fatigue, shortness of breath, and an overall weak feeling. You might be wondering what treatment options exist considering this is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Treatment

The doctor will need to order different tests in order to confirm a diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Once the diagnosis is known, there are some treatment options to prevent the heart disease from progressing.

There may be other medical issues that need to be controlled in order to manage one's heart disease. This would include blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels. The doctor may prescribe medications to help control these levels. Lifestyle changes will need to be made as well, such as eating a healthy diet, losing weight, and stopping smoking. Medications may be needed to manage the chest pain when it occurs, and it's important to learn how to manage activity. The doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation to help improve heart health.

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