Coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the most common causes of death in the United States. It can be a single common killer of both men and women. The true frequency of atherosclerosis is difficult to determine because it is predominantly a symptomatic condition which begins early in childhood with the development of fatty streaks. CAD occurs when the arteries of the heart harden and become narrowed. This is due to the buildup of lipids, cholesterol and other substances called a plaque. This buildup causes decrease in blood flow to the heart resulting in decreased distribution of oxygen and other nutrients to the heart muscle. At first, the heart will try to compensate. However, as the plaques continue to build this may cause signs and symptoms.
Risk Factors of CAD
Coronary atherosclerosis is thought to begin with damage or injury of the blood vessels. The damage may be influenced by a number of factors as follow:
There are a number of physiologic changes when the person grows old. Physiologic changes in the arteries occur such as stiffening and thickening that predisposes a person in having CAD.
Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, at the age of 70 years old, the risk becomes equal to both sexes. Women who have other conditions such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, third trimester bleeding, preterm birth and birth of an infant small for gestational age increases the risk of having CAD.
- Family history
A family history of heart disease predisposes a person of having coronary artery disease. There is a significant increase with if the first degree relatives of an individual who develops CAD at age 55-65 years old.
Vasoconstriction occurs during smoking and carbon monoxide can damage the inner lining of the blood vessels which poses higher risk of developing CAD. The incidence risk of heart attack in women who smoke 20 cigarettes per day is six times higher than that for non-smoker females. The incidence of the men who smoke is triple than that of non-smokers.
- High cholesterol
High levels of cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of plaque formation. High cholesterol levels are caused by increased low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and relative lesser high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol).
Diabetes is associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease. Diabetes and coronary artery disease have practically the same risk factors and both are worsened by obesity.
- High stress
Physical and emotional stresses are known to be factors that trigger angina. They also worsen other risk factors related to CAD.
Signs and Symptoms of CAD
The symptoms of atherosclerosis may vary widely. Patients with mild atherosclerosis may present with significant symptoms and signs of disease and myocardial infarction but some of the affected persons have sudden cardiac death as the first symptom of the condition. The spectrum of presentation of the signs and symptoms is consistent with the following conditions:
- Asymptomatic state
- Stable angina pectoris
- Unstable angina
- Acute myocardial infarction
- Chronic ischemic cardiomyopathy
- Congestive heart failure and
- Sudden cardiac arrest
History assessment of a patient may include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue, palpitations, leg swelling and weight gain. Some of the persons affected with CAD may also have intermittent claudication or pain in the extremities during walking.
Rupture of the plaque or denudation of the fibrous plaque may result in the exposure of the highly thrombogenic area and lipid core which may result in thrombus formation. This in turn may partially or completely occlude the blood flow of the particular artery which usually occurs in unstable angina pectoris and myocardial infarction.
The cardinal sign of coronary artery disease is retrosternal chest pain that is caused by ischemia in heart tissues. Chest pain in CAD is characterized as pressure or tightness in your chest and is usually associated with shortness of breath. This is referred to as angina. This is usually triggered by physical and emotional stress and is usually relieved by rest. In some cases, pain may be fleeting or sharp and may be felt radiating to the arm, back and abdomen. Unstable angina describes a pattern of chest pain increasing in frequency or intensity and includes pain at rest. A prolonged episode of angina pectoris that is associated with diaphoresis is suggestive of myocardial infarction.
Preventive measures against coronary artery sclerosis
A coronary artery sclerosis is a chronic disease and can become a lifetime disorder that puts any person at risk to more serious complications like stroke and heart attack. While the major treatment goal for the condition is to relieve the symptoms, preventive measures are possible in order to reduce the risks to complications. Changing your lifestyle is very important in order to eliminate the risk factors that can contribute to the aggravation of the disease such as quitting smoking, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and reduce body weight. Getting more exercise and eating a healthy and balanced diet can help reduce the cholesterol and triglycerides in the body. This is also best when you have diabetes. Regular exercise will help the circulation in the body to flow normally which helps avoid clot formation that are also risks to coronary artery sclerosis.
If you experience any of these symptoms of a coronary artery sclerosis, make sure to consult a doctor to prevent the more serious complications arising out from the condition.