Coronary heart disease, caused by a blocking of the heart’s arteries, can lead to very serious complications including heart failure and death. Fortunately, the condition can be prevented in many cases by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. In this article, Dr Arjun Kumar Ghosh, an internationally renowned consultant cardiologist, outlines the causes behind coronary heart disease and the symptoms to look out for as well as the role diet and exercise can play in preventing the condition. He also expertly explains the diagnostic process used by cardiologists.
What is happening in the heart when coronary heart disease is present?
When coronary heart disease is present, there is usually a build-up of cholesterol in the different arteries of the heart. This cholesterol build-up causes a narrowing of those arteries which causes some degree of obstruction to blood flow and can result in chest pain.
What causes coronary heart disease to develop?
Coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is caused by the build-up of cholesterol, usually caused by dietary factors. However, it can also be influenced by other factors including:
- family history
- physical activity
Can coronary heart disease be prevented?
Coronary heart disease can be prevented if steps are taken early on. In most cases, that means maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet which typically has less fried and oily food.
Lots of exercise also keeps the heart healthy and avoiding risk factors such as smoking and being overweight can help prevent the build-up of cholesterol.
Of course, there are some factors that can’t be prevented such as a person’s genetic make-up and family history. In every case, however, taking measures related to exercise and diet prevents the development of coronary heart disease as far as possible.
What symptoms should people look out for?
The symptoms of coronary heart disease depend upon the degree of narrowing in the coronary blood vessels. If the narrowing is minor, there can be pain in the chest with significant exertion. However, the greater the narrowing, the more easily the chest pain occurs and with less and less exertion.
The key cause for concern is pain in the chest with activity. However in certain cases, the pain can be non-typical, occurring at rest or on other occasions where the patient isn’t exerting themselves significantly.
When should I see a doctor about coronary heart disease?
If you have any concerns that you are developing symptoms of coronary heart disease, you should seek medical assistance. Symptoms can include:
- pain or discomfort in the chest on exertion
- pain in the jaw which extends along the left arm on exertion
Coronary heart disease related pain is typically characterised as a heaviness or dullness in the chest but some patients also experience sharp pains or a more general discomfort. If you have a family history of coronary heart disease and you have elevated cholesterol or are concerned about your general health, this should be discussed with your medical provider.
What tests do doctors perform to establish a diagnosis of coronary heart disease?
A number of tests are usually performed if a patient is suspected of having coronary heart disease. The basic tests include an ECG which shows if there’s any problem with the blood supply while the patient is at rest. This often not the case and further examinations, such as an exercise test or stress test are required to better understand this.
Some exercise tests are performed on the treadmill, where the patient is hooked up to an ECG machine to see if there are any changes which signify problems with the heart blood supply while the patient is active. In addition to this, we may wish to look at the heart arteries with a CT scan or to do a stress test in the form of an MRI scan.
Finally, if there is conclusive evidence of disease, we need to examine this in more detail by directly looking at the heart arteries which can be done through a procedure called a coronary angiogram.
If you are concerned about your heart health or have a family history of coronary heart disease and would like more information, you can book a consultation with Dr Ghosh by visiting his Top Doctors profile.