Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is a major cause of mortality all over the world. Over the years, CHD has been responsible for causing more number of deaths than any other non-communicable disease.
Yes, this is a very morbid way to start this blog, but then again, we are here to discuss a serious disease, and it wouldn’t be right to sugarcoat it and present it to you.
However, the good news is, most of these deaths could have been prevented because CHD is related to certain aspects of an individual’s lifestyle and minor adjustments can ensure almost everyone can live a healthy, heart-disease free life.
What is Coronary Heart Disease?
Our heart needs constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly and these are carried to it by blood passing through pipes called Coronary arteries. Sometimes fat gets deposited within the walls of these arteries to form a “Plaque”. The plaque builds over a period of time and causes obstruction to the flow of blood. The heart starts to suffer from the reduced blood supply and this causes Coronary Heart Disease.
It starts with a pain felt in the chest and also sometimes, in the left hand and shoulder. This pain is called ‘angina’. However, if the blood flow is completely cut off, a person suffers from a heart attack, where the part of heart which does not receive any blood starts dying.
The buildup of plaque happens over years, which gives us an opportunity to detect it, arrest its progress and prevent complications.
What causes this buildup and subsequently CHD?
We know that the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries cause CHD, but do we know why some people are more prone to it than others? Why does CHD plague only a certain section of people and why are they at a higher risk of developing this disease?
Coronary disease begins when the inner layer of the coronary artery gets damaged. This damage can be caused by the following factors:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Physical Inactivity
Once the damage begins, it gets fairly easy for the fatty deposits to accumulate in these arteries, which are again nothing but buildup of cholesterol and other cellular waste products. This process is called atherosclerosis. All of this can lead to a fatal heart attack.
What are the symptoms of CHD?
Chest pain and shortness of breath are considered to be the first and most common symptoms of coronary heart disease. Tightness, pain, heaviness, or a squeezing sensation in the chest and occasionally in the left arm, shoulders and even neck and jaw are some of the other symptoms a person may feel. One may also experience symptoms such as nausea, back pain, light-headedness and fainting.
Angina occurs following a physical exertion, usually unaccustomed or extreme psychological stress. An angina pain lasts few minutes and goes away with rest. When the pain does not go away or increases, it could be a sign of a heart attack and the person should be rushed to a hospital right away.
Occasionally, patients may also experience something known as ‘Silent Ischemia’, where patients do not experience or display any symptoms at all. They can also have a heart attack without symptoms.
How is CHD diagnosed?
Early detection is definitely one of the easiest ways to fight CHD and prevent its progression. We should talk to our doctors if we are in extreme stress and have been living an unhealthy lifestyle. People at risk should get regular check-ups done.
Doctors will usually follow one of these following steps to determine the risk we face:
- Have an exhaustive talk with us, discussing our symptoms and lifestyle.
- Performing a physical examination.
- Carrying out diagnostic tests such as an ECG (Electrocardiogram), Echocardiogram, or a stress test commonly called TMT
- Coronary Angiography, either a conventional or using a CT scan.
Lifestyle changes that help prevent CHD
It’s a surprise that heart diseases cause so many deaths, when in reality they can be easily prevented. Our lifestyle plays a major role in whether or not we are susceptible to heart disease. If we can follow certain healthy habits, then we can reduce the chances of CHD drastically. Even though we are always advised to imbibe these habits from an early age, remember it is never too late to begin.
The five relatively easier and healthy lifestyle habits are:
- A healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
Through lifestyle changes such as managing our weight and watching what we eat, managing diabetes, exercising regularly or by making sure we are physically active and avoiding smoking, we can definitely reduce our chances of contracting CHD. To help lower cholesterol levels, we should eat food low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Reducing the consumption of refined sugar also helps.
When discussing heart diseases in today’s world, it is inevitable that we need to address the issue of stress. Stress hurts the heart and over time weakens it. Again, exercise, meditation, yoga and even discussing our issues and problems with someone can help reduce stress.
Even though CHD is a scary prospect, it is avoidable and people, even those who are at a higher risk of contracting it, can lead a healthy and long life by making some lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to begin living a healthy lifestyle and it’s never too early either. Keeping our heart healthy will not only reduce the chances contracting heart diseases, but also of other diseases such as strokes and dementia. Live healthy and live strong.
Stay tuned for our next blog where we will discuss in detail why as Indians, we are prone to heart disease and how we can combat it.