Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States (1).
Major risks for the development of CAD include a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets, smoking, obesity, and metabolic disorders.
What is it (CAD)?
Partial blockage of a coronary artery characterizes the heart condition called coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries (left and right) are responsible for delivering blood to the heart, particularly the heart muscle responsible for contracting.
Blockages (or plaques) in coronary arteries build up over time as a result of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the process by which cholesterol and white blood cells deposit in injured artery walls, leading to plaque formation. This plaque limits blood flow through the coronary and may lead to angina (chest pain) and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Angina is a chronic symptom of coronary artery disease. It is chest pain caused by insufficient blood supply to the heart. Angina is typically triggered by an elevation in heart rate since the heart’s blood demand rises. The blockage doesn’t allow enough blood to get to the heart muscle to fuel heart rate elevation.
This is a more unpredictable form of angina that isn’t triggered by heart rate elevation. In this case, the plaque has partially detached from the coronary artery wall creating a “flap.” When this “flap” blocks blood flow to the heart temporarily, it causes chest pain.
Myocardial Infarction (MI):
This is a heart attack, caused by plaque rupture on a coronary artery. The rupture leads to the formation of a thrombus (or blood clot) that completely blocks blood flow onsite or breaks off and creates a blockage downstream. The heart muscle begins to die from lack of blood supply and may lead to death if left untreated.
Once an individual suffers from a heart attack, he/she is at higher risk for future heart attacks and heart failure. Heart failure is described as the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands- it is considered the end stage of all cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
The increased risk of heart failure after a heart attack is due to the altered contractile force of the heart’s muscle. The death of heart muscle means weaker contraction force and a buildup of blood in the heart’s chambers. The collection of blood may lead to the buildup of fluid (edema) in structures surrounding the heart, like the lung, leading to shortness of breath, pain, and impaired function.
Risks for CHD:
- Physical Inactivity
- High Blood Pressure
- Unhealthy diets
- Being overweight or obese
- Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome)
- High LDL (bad cholesterol) and Low HDL (good cholesterol)
- Smoking: Smoking is so bad that it’s worth further mention. It is a major risk for CAD and other CVDs because it directly damages the vascular endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels). Damage to the endothelium then allows for cholesterol and white blood cells to deposit and for atherosclerosis (plaque formation) to progress.
The Heart, Diet, and Exercise:
- Diet: A healthy diet is important for controlling metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia (too much fat in the blood), and an unhealthy weight. A healthy diet may also supplement physical activity and lead to better and faster results as far as weight loss. Even small changes, such as eating breakfast, may also reduce one’s risk for coronary artery disease.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is preventive medicine for CAD and other cardiovascular diseases. Regular exercise controls blood sugar, cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and body weight—all major risk factors for CAD. Additionally, regular exercise prevents muscle loss and promotes bone density—two important components of healthy aging.
- More on Smoking: People who exercise regularly and eat healthily are less likely to smoke. Exercise may also help to quit cigarette smoking and control weight-gain as a result of quitting (as it often happens).
Get more with CORE! Santa Cruz CORE specializes in helping people recover from injury, disease, and other debilitating factors. If you’ve had a heart attack or similar scare, then stop by to see our Personal Trainers or Nutritionists to get you back on the right track.
“Heart Disease Facts and Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Nov. 2017, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.