Coronary heart disease, also referred to as coronary artery disease, is characterized by the narrowing of the coronary arteries. These arteries are the blood vessels that supply both oxygen and blood to the heart. Typically, coronary heart disease occurs when excess cholesterol accumulates along the artery walls, creating plaque blockages. As the arteries narrow, blood flow to the heart is restricted. On occasion, a blood clot may form and obstruct the flow of blood throughout the heart.
In most patients, coronary heart disease causes angina pectoris (chest pain), shortness of breath, or a heart attack. As of today, there are more than 370,000 deaths per year caused by coronary artery disease, making it the most common form of heart disease in the country.
Coronary Heart Disease Facts
To better understand this health condition, let’s explore a few common facts about coronary heart disease.
- According to the CDC, nearly 735,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack annually.
- The warning signs of coronary heart disease include intense chest pain, discomfort, and shortness of breath.
- Coronary heart disease may be broken down into types, including angina and a heart attack.
Causes of Coronary Heart Disease
Most of today’s research indicates that coronary heart disease all begins with some form of damage or injury to the inner layer of the coronary artery. This damage or injury may occur as early as childhood, then worsen over time. Such damage may include, but is not limited to:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Sedentary lifestyle
As the inner wall of the coronary artery is damaged, fatty deposits known as plaque begin to form. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and cellular waste products that accumulate around the injury in what is known as atherosclerosis. As the surface of the plaque breaks off, blood cells known as platelets clump to the site to begin repairing the damaged artery. This clump, which is trying to help, will actually block the artery and lead to a severe heart attack.
Risk Factors of Coronary Heart Disease
There are numerous risk factors associated with coronary heart disease, including:
- Age – As we age, the risk of damaged and narrowed arteries increases.
- Sex – Typically, men are at higher risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk increases for women following menopause.
- Family – If you have a family history of heart disease, you may be at greater risk of coronary heart disease. Your risk is highest if your father or brother were diagnosed before the age of 55 of if your mother or sister were diagnosed after age 65.
- Smoking – Those who smoke experience a significantly higher risk of heart disease than others, as does exposing others to secondhand smoke.
- High Blood Pressure – Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to the hardening and thickening of the heart’s arteries, narrowing the channel.