Coronary heart disease

The coronary arteries are those that supply blood to the heart. They are attached directly to the wall of the heart and are squeezed and expanded as the heart muscle contracts and relaxes. This contraction occurs 100,000 times a day, placing the coronary arteries under considerable stress and causing them to be especially vulnerable to damage and disease. Coronary heart disease is also known as ischemic heart disease and its most common forms are myocardial infarction (heart attack) and angina pectoris (chest pain).

Coronary heart diseaseAngina

Angina pectoris has symptoms of a squeezing or pressure-like chest pain, which usually occurs after physical exertion. The pain can be severe or mild and usually lasts from one to 20 minutes. Angina is caused by an insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart, usually because of the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque. A special type of angina, known as variant angina, occurs when the coronary arteries go into spasm. This type of angina can occur at rest, at odd times during the day or night, and is more common in women under the age of 50.

Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is sharply reduced or stopped, after one of the coronary arteries is blocked. If the blood supply is cut off for a long period, death may result. About 1.5 million Americans suffer from a heart attack in any one year. Coronary artery disease, in which

the arteries supplying blood to the heart become blocked by the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque, is the underlying cause of heart attacks.

Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet and an appropriate exercise program can help to prevent heart attacks, even in those who may have already suffered. Drug therapy including aspirin, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and cholesterol-lowering drugs may also play a part. Hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women can also reduce the risk as estrogen protects the heart.

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