Unclogging a Heavy Heart: How to Avoid Coronary Artery Disease

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By: Ace C. Odulio

With the holiday season fast approaching, you’re probably looking forward to indulging on the plethora of dishes that will be served at the dinner table. Maybe, you’re even thinking of smoking some celebratory cigars or cigarettes and drinking copious amounts of alcohol with your family and friends. While it’s true that there are lots of reasons to celebrate during the “-ber” months, constantly having too much fun by binge eating and abusing on vices can cause long-term – and even lethal – consequences to your heart.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Coronary Artery Disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide. This disease is due to years of cholesterol-filled plaque building up in – and eventually clogging up – your coronary arteries (those that supply blood to the heart). This process is called atherosclerosis, during which accumulated LDL cholesterol, as known as “bad” cholesterol, in your arteries later turn into plaque. The plaque forms when an artery’s inner wall is damaged due to several factors like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and lack of vigorous physical exercise.

 

As Dr. Norberto Tuaño, Jr., a cardiologist at De Los Santos Medical Center, describes, “Your arteries start out as smooth and elastic. Because of plaque, these now become narrow—thus restricting blood flow to the heart. Your heart eventually becomes starved of oxygen and the vital nutrients that it needs to pump properly.”

Cholesterol plaque can start to develop on the walls of your arteries and blood vessels at a young age. The plaque painlessly builds up – hence it usually goes undetected – and inflames the walls as you get older. If the surface of these plaques ruptures or breaks, platelets will assemble or clump around the rupture to try to repair it. “In some cases, this clump or blood clot can block the blood supply to the heart and cause a heart attack,” Dr. Tuaño continues. “Moreover, if a blood vessel inside your brain is blocked (usually also by a blood clot) it can result in a stroke.”

 

Risk Factors

Since coronary artery disease can develop as early as childhood, it’s wise to know the factors that can increase the risk of getting such a disease. Some of them include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Having a family history of heart disease

 

Symptoms

The most common symptom of the disease is angina. Commonly mistaken for either indigestion or heartburn, angina can be described as a heaviness, burning, squeezing or painful sensation, usually felt in your chest. This form of discomfort can also occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. It is usually triggered by physical or emotional stress and goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity.

Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (irregular, skipped or more abrupt heartbeats)
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Unexpected cardiac arrest – common in people who have previous heart attacks

Silent ischemia is a condition that has no obvious symptoms. Therefore, your arteries may be blocked by 50% or more without causing any symptoms. It can, however, be detected by an electrocardiogram (ECG or heart tracing) and other tests.

“It’s always best to consult your doctor as soon as you experience any of the symptoms or you think that you are at risk of getting this disease,” Dr. Tuaño advises.

 

Treatment

“Basically, treatment for this disease involves making proper lifestyle changes, taking your medications and seeing your cardiologist regularly,” Dr. Tuaño reiterates. “If needed, invasive or surgical procedures are also among the treatment options.”

Lessen your risk factors

Since you already know some of the risk factors, you can now choose to avoid what can be avoided. If you smoke, choose to quit. If you have diabetes, learn to control your blood sugar. If you’re obese or overweight, exercise regularly, avoid processed foods and adopt a low-trans-fat, low-salt, and low-sugar diet.

Medications

Consult your heart doctor for the right medications to help your heart function more efficiently and have more oxygen-rich blood.

Surgery and other procedures

Procedures like balloon angioplasty (PTCA), stent placement and coronary artery bypass surgery increase blood supply to your heart and help treat the disease. However, to prevent the disease from recurring, you will still need to lower your risk factors at the end of the day.

 

To avoid all the hassle, choose to limit your indulgences early on―which can be challenging with the holidays just around the corner. But, if you take this advice to heart, you won’t have any regrets in the future.