Coronary Heart Disease

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease is also called coronary artery disease. It is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S.

Coronary heart disease is when the innermost layer of the coronary arteries becomes inflamed and narrowed. This is caused by a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. These deposits may start in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge throughout the life span. This thickening is called atherosclerosis. It can cut or block blood flow to the heart. A blood clot may also form on top of the plaque. Either of these can lead to a heart attack and even death.

The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle. Like all other tissues in the body, the heart muscle needs oxygen-rich blood to work, and oxygen-depleted blood must be carried away. The coronary arteries run along the outside of the heart. They have small branches that supply blood to the heart muscle. The 2 main coronary arteries are the left main and right coronary arteries.

Coronary Heart Disease

What causes coronary heart disease?

The most common cause of coronary heart disease is atherosclerosis. That’s when the inner lining of an artery becomes inflamed and builds up with plaque. It causes the artery to narrow or become blocked.

What are the symptoms of coronary heart disease?

The symptoms of coronary heart disease will depend on the severity of the disease. Some people have no symptoms. Others have episodes of mild chest pain (angina) when they are active. Some people have more severe chest pain even at rest.

If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, you may have angina. When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack. The heart muscle starts to die. Some people may have a heart attack and never notice the symptoms. This is called a "silent" heart attack.

These are the symptoms of coronary heart disease:

Heaviness, tightness, pressure, burning, or pain in the chest behind the breastbone

  • Pain spreading to the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and severe tiredness (fatigue) especially during periods of activity
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain that eases with rest
  • Chest pain that happens even at rest

Fainting (syncope) may be a symptom of a heart attack in elderly adults.

The symptoms of coronary heart disease may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

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