Types of Heart Disease: Coronary Heart Disease

By Spader, Catherine, RN

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (Source: NIH). This may be unsettling to read if you have coronary heart disease or if it runs in your family. Fortunately, lifestyle changes and other treatments can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease.

What Happens in Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease, also called ischemic heart disease and coronary artery disease, is a narrowing of the blood vessels that bring blood to your heart muscle. These blood vessels are called coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis, or a buildup of fatty plaque on your coronary artery walls usually causes coronary heart disease.

Narrowed coronary arteries reduce blood flow to your heart muscle and can cause chest pain, especially during exercise or stress. In addition, blood clots form more easily in narrowed arteries. A blood clot can completely block blood flow, causing a heart attack and life-threatening heart damage.

You may not have any symptoms of coronary heart disease until you have a serious problem, such as a heart attack. If you do feel symptoms, they can include being short of breath, getting tired easily with activity, and feeling weak.

Who Gets Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease generally begins early in life and progresses slowly. The choices you make in your daily life, even during childhood, can increase your risk and worsen the disease. These include:

  • Smoking

  • Eating a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fats such as fatty red meats

  • Eating a diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates such as white bread

  • Not getting enough exercise

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Not following your doctor’s advice for treating high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic diseases

Some things that increase your risk of coronary heart disease are out of your control. If you’re a man, a woman who has gone through menopause, or an African American, your risk is increased. Similarly, having a family history of a heart attack early in life also increases your risk.

What Can I Do About Coronary Heart Disease?

In many ways, your heart health is in your hands. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease or stop it from getting worse:

  • Stop smoking. Your doctor can help you stop smoking with advice on smoking cessation programs and medications.

  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Choose foods that are low in sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats and high in fiber. This includes lean meats, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Try to limit processed foods and include as many fresh foods in your diet as possible.

  • Get active. The American Heart Association recommends about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. You’re more likely to stay active if you choose activities you enjoy. This can include walking, dancing, water aerobics, fitness classes, ice skating, or bike riding. Ask your doctor what type of exercise is best for you.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your doctor about an ideal weight goal for your health and the best weight-loss plan.

  • Go easy on alcohol. Don’t drink more than one alcoholic drink per day if you’re a woman or two per day if you’re a man.

  • See your doctor and take your medications as directed. This is especially important if you have chronic diseases that can cause or worsen heart disease. These include angina, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

The sooner you control your risk factors and treat coronary heart disease, the less likely it is that you will have serious problems.

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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