Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.
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'?
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?
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.
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.
If the arteries are significantly narrowed, there are other procedures and surgeries that may be required to treat coronary heart disease. This would include an angioplasty and stent placement, coronary artery bypass surgery, or minimally invasive heart surgery. These procedures are all slightly different with the same intention of improving blood flow to the heart.
The coronary arteries carry blood to the heart muscle. When these arteries become narrowed due to plaque buildup, it limits the blood flow to the heart. This condition is called coronary heart disease.
Chest pain is the primary symptom experienced with coronary heart disease. It usually occurs with activity or high stress. When the heart has to work harder, it requires more blood flow to supply it, but because of the narrowed arteries, the heart isn't getting the amount of blood it needs, and the pain occurs. Other symptoms can include pain radiating to other areas, fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness.
Treatment options include medications to manage blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, along with lifestyle changes. Medication may be needed to treat the chest pain. If the narrowing of the arteries is severe, surgical procedures may be required to restore blood flow.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you are experiencing chest pain and/or shortness of breath, call 911 immediately.
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