The heart muscle, like all other muscles in the body, needs a steady blood supply to keep functioning. The arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle are the coronary arteries. Coronary artery disease is buildup of plaque (a collection of debris, cells and cholesterol) in the arteries. Frequency and severity of coronary artery disease tends to increase with age and risk factors such as the following:
- Family history of heart attack, bypass surgery, coronary artery angioplasty or stent placement, especially first-degree relatives (parents and siblings)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
The typical individual at risk for coronary artery disease is older than 40 years in age and has one of more of the risk factors listed above.
What problems does coronary artery disease cause?
When plaque in the coronary arteries becomes severe enough to interfere with blood flow to the heart muscle, the affected person can feel symptoms such as chest pain, chest pressure, jaw pain or breathlessness. In some cases, plaque in the coronary artery suddenly break and trigger a blood clot to form inside the artery, which can then completely block the artery and cause a heart attack. In people who develop problems from coronary artery disease, approximately 50% experience heart attack as their first symptom.
How is coronary artery disease detected?
Low-dose CT (computerized tomography) calcium scoring can identify the early stages of heart disease in patients without symptoms. Click here for more information, or talk to your primary care doctor about scheduling an appointment.
Know the signs
Heart attack doesn’t always present as crushing chest pain, especially in women.
- Chest pain or pressure in the center of the chest that can range from mild to severe and lasts more than a few minutes
- Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling lightheaded
- Cold sweats
If you think you are experiencing heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately. Let the EMS professionals determine whether or not you are having a heart attack. Quick action and medical treatment can restore blood flow, but this can happen only if the person receives medical help right away.
Do you know your risk?
Facts: Good = 120/80 mmHg; High = 140/90 mmHg or more. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder than it should to move blood throughout your body. Untreated, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, eye and kidney problems and death.
Prevention: Have your doctor check your blood pressure, aim for a healthy weight, stay physically active, follow a healthy diet, limit alcohol intake and take medicine if prescribed.
Facts: Good = Less than 200 mg/dL; Borderline-high = 200-239 mg/dL; High = 240 mg/dL or more. High cholesterol clogs your arteries, which leads to heart disease.
Prevention: After age 20, have your cholesterol checked every five years, or more often if it is high; learn what your numbers mean; follow a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol; aim for a healthy weight; stay physically active; take medicine if prescribed.
Facts: Sleeping less than six hours a night on a regular basis doubles your chance of heart attack and raises the risk of congestive heart failure.
Prevention: If you’re having significant sleep problems, talk to your physician.
Facts: Cigarette smoking is addictive. It damages your heart and lungs and can greatly increase your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
Prevention: If you smoke, ask your physician about cessation programs and stop now.
Facts: Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation of your weight and height. Underweight=20 or less; Healthy=20-25; Overweight=25-30; Obese=30 or more. Excess weight increases your risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.
Prevention: Maintain a healthy weight; if you are overweight, try losing ½ to 1 pound a week; If you are obese, see your physician about a weight plan.
Facts: Physical inactivity increases your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and heart attack.
Prevention: Experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, such as walking, dancing, biking, swimming, etc.
If you are concerned about any of these risk factors, call your physician. If you need a physician, call UT Health East Texas Physicians at 903-596-DOCS, or click here to schedule an appointment online.