By Traci L French MD
Coronary heart disease (CAD) is the most common cause of death in the United States. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans will die of heart disease, regardless of race or gender. CAD occurs when inflammation causes raised lumps of fatty tissue or plaques to develop in your arteries, clogging the main blood vessels in your heart. If the blood flow in these vessels becomes completely blocked, the surrounding tissue will die and cause a heart attack. Risk factors for CAD include increasing age, obesity, diabetes, male gender, high blood pressure, smoking and excessive alcohol use. Almost half of Americans are obese and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are the three most common risk factors for heart attack.
Serious symptoms that should never be ignored include chest pain, pressure or tightness- especially if is accompanied by arm, neck, or jaw pain- as well as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, sweating, difficulty thinking and tingling in your arms or legs. Women and people with diabetes may different symptoms of a heart attack including severe fatigue, sweating, and jaw or back pain. CALL 911 immediately if you have these symptoms. Delay can mean death or serious injury.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease is based on the severity of your symptoms and risk factors. Acute symptoms often require emergency intervention to prevent damage to cardiac tissue and prevent development of worsening disease. After the condition is diagnosed and stabilized, your provider and treatment team can help develop a strategy to manage your symptoms and halt disease progression. Yearly checkups can help identify risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Discussing any warning symptoms with your doctor is a very important way to minimize the risk of having a heart attack or other serious heart issue.
Lifestyle modification is key in the prevention of coronary artery disease. You can decrease your risk of a heart attack by 50% just by quitting smoking. Obesity affects almost 40% of the population and the risk of obesity increases by 5% each year. Diet changes shown to lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart attack include eating fatty fish such as salmon twice a week, adding 2 tablespoons of nuts to your daily diet, and increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet. A nutritionist can assist you in developing a healthy customized diet plan, but a general guideline is that each meal should consist of 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% whole grains and 25% lean protein. Exercise is incredibly important for lowering stress, improving mood, weight loss and adding muscle to the body. Exercising 150 minutes per week decreases heart attack risk by 30%. Other lifestyle changes shown to decrease heart attack risk include consuming moderate alcohol (2 drinks/day for men, 1 drink/day for women) and avoiding the trans fats found in processed and fast foods.
Heart disease is a serious but preventable disease. Regular checkups with your medical provider can mean the difference between life and death if you have the warning signs. Don’t neglect them.
Citations: Am Fam Physician. 2003 Apr 15;67(8):1769-1770. Coronary Artery Disease: How Your Diet Can Help. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0415/p1769.html PRINT