Coronary artery disease is a serious condition that affects millions of people each year. It is often fatal because there is no cure once someone has it. There are treatment options and preventive measures that can be taken that help lessen the risk of fatalities caused by it, though. Because of this, it is important that those who are at risk for the disease know the following important information about it.
What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease refers to the build up of plaque and fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries. There is an increased risks with persons having an unhealthy lifestyle. Those who smoke and drink excessively while eating a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fats have the highest risk of getting it. However, genetics also play a role. If a person has a close relative who has coronary artery disease, they have an increased risk of getting it too.
There are no symptoms when coronary artery disease first begins. That is because blood is still able to flow through the arteries. But this changes over time as the plaque and fatty deposits build up more. The path for blood to flow through gets smaller and smaller. If an artery becomes completely blocked, it will likely cause a heart attack. The symptoms of a heart attack differ from men and women, but the classic ones include:
- Chest pain that doesn’t get better with rest.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Numbness in the left arm.
- Pain that spreads across the shoulders.
- An uncomfortable sensation in the jaw.
For women, more common symptoms include:
- Excessive Fatigue
- Shortness of Breath
- Sleep Disturbances
These symptoms should direct you to the Emergency Department; Not a Quickcare clinic.
Does Coronary Artery Disease Require a Trip to the Emergency Room?
Since there are no symptoms of this disease until the blood flow is restricted or completely blocked in an artery, it is an emergency once the symptoms finally begin. So the best thing that a person should do if this happens is taking a baby aspirin, then immediately call an ambulance.
No one should ever wait because every minute counts with a heart attack. If the blood flow is restricted for too long, it will cause the heart muscle to die. Blood flow to the brain can also be blocked. Or a piece of the fat or plaque deposits could break off from the pressure of the blood behind it. If this happens, it could cause a stroke.
How Is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?
There are several tests that a doctor can do to see if a person has this condition. The first one is an electrocardiogram (EKG). It checks the electrical activity of the heart. If there are immediate problems with the way that the heart is functioning, there typically is a noticeable change with this test. If the initial tests and evaluation is insufficient to determine cardiac disease, your doctor may admit you to an observation unit. This unit allows doctors to order blood studies to evaluate cardiac enzymes such as troponin. Troponin elevation is highly suggestive of acute heart disease. Furthermore, an exercise treadmill test is a common test done in an observation unit. Doctors also commonly order an echocardiogram for those unable to exercise. This test allows them to see inside it without having to do surgery.
To obtain a direct image of the coronary arteries, catheterization is done. If a block is found, the doctor will decide to insert a stent at this time or perform a surgery (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft)
What Is the Treatment for Coronary Artery Disease?
The first line of defense against this disease is to have the person make some changes to their diet. Red, fatty cuts of meat, sugary treats, and junk food all have to be eliminated. Caffeinated beverages need to be avoided as well since they constrict the blood vessels and raise a person’s blood pressure. Any smoking or drinking habits have to be stopped right away too.
Most doctors also recommend that people with this disease start exercising regularly. A simple walking program is usually sufficient, but yoga is also helpful because it aids in decreasing high levels of stress that are damaging to the heart.
The medications that are prescribed for coronary artery disease vary from person-to-person. However, it is common for patients to receive a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming and medications to reduce the plaque and fatty deposits and keep blood pressure levels healthy. If the cholesterol levels are high, then a person will also need medications to lower them.
Sometimes, doctors have to put a stent in where the artery was blocked. This is especially common if a person has a heart attack because of it. The stent opens up the artery so that blood can flow through it again.
How Long Does a Person Usually Have This Condition?
Coronary artery disease is a chronic condition that lasts for many years if it isn’t treated. Unfortunately, many people who have it refuse to make the changes that are needed to get healthier, so the prognosis isn’t usually good. But even a person who tries their best to follow their doctor’s orders about getting healthy can struggle with it because once the plaque has formed in the arteries, it can’t be easily removed.
This disease occurs more often in older adults who have arteries that aren’t as flexible as those in a younger person. And the more rigid the arteries are, the harder that it is for them to expand to allow blood to flow through.
Coronary artery disease is a serious condition that can be fatal if it isn’t treated in time. It often leads to a heart attack because blood can’t flow through the arteries properly. Anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack should take a baby aspirin and call an ambulance immediately. There are many treatment options available for this disease, but they have to be done at a hospital. So no one should ever wait to go, especially if they are having chest pains.
I hope this helps.
David Reyes MD
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