It’s well known that plaque buildup in any way, shape, or form is detrimental to the health of an organ or system, but Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) can be especially concerning. This disease occurs as a direct result of a waxy substance, more widely known as plaque, building up inside the coronary arteries—the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
This disease process leads to atherosclerosis—the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. This malfunction slowly blocks arteries altogether, suppressing proper blood flow to the heart muscle. It can lead to strokes, heart arrhythmia’s, heart attacks, and/or peripheral vascular disease.
In coronary artery disease, buildup of plaque can cause the coronary artery to narrow, thus reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart. Should the plaque rupture, it may form a clot. That clot causes a massive blockage of proper blood flow to and through the coronary artery. This stops the oxygen rich blood from reaching the heart muscle. This lack of oxygen to the heart muscle causes the muscle to become damaged. This malfunctions in much the same way a clogged drain or pipe might stop working properly. It can cause a backup, so to speak, or apply too much pressure to the area, resulting in potentially catastrophic results.
There are a number of other conditions that could evolve because of Coronary Heart Disease. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood does become an ongoing problem, that could result in a condition known as angina. That happens following a partial, or in some cases, full blockage. Some of the symptoms of angina include chest pain or discomfort in the heart/chest area. Many people describe it as feeling like an intense pressure or tightening in their chest. In some cases, patients complain of arm, neck, shoulder, or back pain. There are even case studies that suggest indigestion like symptoms occur for some patients. This condition is one of the first signs that there may be an underlying heart condition—like Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)–that should be explored further.
The more widely known condition—heart attack—is the one most people worry about, but often don’t fully understand what it is until it happens to them or to someone they know. A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked or clogged and the flow of oxygen rich blood does not reach the heart muscle. When this occurs, it needs to be addressed quickly before the heart muscle atrophies or dies. The primary objective is to restore blood flow to that area immediately. Lifesaving treatments for heart attacks must happen as quickly as possible. The first order of business no matter what the situation is to call 9-1-1. Arriving to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible to have the opportunity to restore blood flow thru that artery can be the difference between life and death
A diagnosis of Coronary Heart Disease should give you the incentive to want to do everything you can to prevent or slow the progression of worsening symptoms or to eliminate the possibility of other conditions to happen. Other factors that will improve your overall health and your heart health include simple lifestyle changes, medication, and in-office medical procedures. Speak to your doctor if you have any symptoms that are troubling or you have questions about the disease and whether or not it’s something you should be screened for.
By Joaquin N Diego, MD, FCCP, FACC