What Is Coronary Artery Disease and How Can You Prevent It?

coronary artery disease

As we get older, our bodies begin to show signs of age. We can see it when we look in the mirror, and sometimes we can certainly feel it when those little aches and pains set in! But what we can’t see is the “wear and tear” we get on the inside. Issues with the heart, lungs, or other organs can show up over time, either by coming on slowly or by hitting all at once. It’s one of the reasons why safety features like a medical alert pendant become a good idea as we get older – you never know what might happen.

That’s especially true if you suffer from some form of heart disease. The CDC offers some sobering numbers about heart disease: It’s the leading cause of death in the United States[1]. In fact, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. According to Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, one in four individuals in the United States dies of heart disease every year. 

Coronary artery disease, also known as CAD or ischemic heart disease, is the most common type of heart disease. It’s estimated that over 18 million adults over the age of 20 have coronary artery disease, and about 20% of deaths from CAD happen among those who are younger than 65[2].

Those are sobering numbers. The best way to fight back against coronary artery disease is through educating yourself about what it is and what you can do about it. Even as you work toward reducing your risks, it pays to be prepared just in case – and that’s why an emergency medical alert device is an excellent idea. If you begin to feel chest pain or other symptoms that are worrisome, you can simply press the button on your medical alert watch, bracelet, or pendant to get the help you need.

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

According to the Cleveland Clinic, coronary artery disease is “a narrowing or blockage of your coronary arteries usually caused by the buildup of fatty material called plaque.”

Let’s break that down.

First, what are the coronary arteries? These are the blood vessels that rest on top of your heart muscle. They keep the oxygen-rich blood circulating. There are four of them: the left, the right, the left anterior descending, and the left circumflex artery.

Second, what is the plaque that can build up in these arteries? It’s a combination of fatty substances, waste products, cholesterol, calcium, and fibrin, which is a substance your body uses to form clots. When the plaque builds up, it’s known as atherosclerosis[3].

As that plaque builds up, it causes the artery walls to become stiff and narrow. This impedes the blood flow. Over time, it can clog or damage the arteries to such an extent that it limits the blood flow to your heart. When that happens, your heart won’t get the oxygen and nutrients necessary to stay in good working order – this is called ischemia.

You might also suffer from chest pain or discomfort. This is called angina. According to the CDC, angina is the most common sign of heart disease. Angina can be mild or severe, and can feel very much like a heart attack.

But Why Does the Plaque Build Up?

The buildup of plaque in the arteries can begin when you’re a child. Even at that tender age, your blood vessels will have streaks of fat in them. As this plaque begins to build, several different things begin to happen:

·         Your body sends white blood cells to attack the cholesterol in the plaque.

·         That attack leads to inflammation.

·         To try to fix this, cells in the artery wall form a soft cap over the plaque.

·         This cap can eventually break open, often due to a circulation issue, such as high blood pressure.

·         Platelets “stick” to that area, causing a small clot to form in an attempt to heal the wound.

·         That clot narrows the arteries even more.

·         Sometimes that clot breaks apart on its own and causes no worries. But sometimes, it blocks the blood flow through the artery.

·         This leads to a heart attack.

Who’s At Risk for Coronary Artery Disease?

Believe it or not, everyone gets coronary artery disease. You have it right now. It progresses at a different rate for every person. For instance, you might never feel any effects of the disease, but your neighbor might have an awful time dealing with it.

Even though we all have some level of coronary artery disease, there are some risk factors that make it more likely that the disease will take a toll on you. These include[4]:

·         A family history of heart disease

·         Certain medical problems, especially high blood pressure or diabetes

·         A high cholesterol level (especially if your LDL level is high and your HDL level is low)

·         Being a smoker

·         Being overweight

·         Living a sedentary lifestyle

·         Being a man over the age of 45 or a woman who is past menopause

·         Those who are of Black, Mexican American, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Asian American descent.

How Can I Spot Symptoms?

The most common symptoms will come on gradually as you age, and can include shortness of breath or mild chest discomfort. This might be especially prominent after physical activity, such as climbing a set of stairs. This is because your heart is pumping harder to send blood throughout the body. But eventually, those symptoms can show up even when you are resting.

For some, the first sign of coronary artery disease is a heart attack. The symptoms of a heart attack include[5]:

·         Chest pain. This can be anything from a mild discomfort or “heaviness” to severe pain. It often starts in your chest and radiates outward to other areas of the body, especially your left arm, shoulder, back, neck or jaw. You might even feel it in your abdomen.

·         Shortness of breath or trouble taking in a deep breath.

·         Heart palpitations, or the feeling that your heart is racing.

·         Stomach pain or nausea.

·         Sweating.

·         Getting dizzy, lightheaded, or fainting.

·         Feeling very tired or weak.

·         Severe anxiety; some describe it as a feeling of impending doom.

Remember that the symptoms of a heart attack in women can be different from the classic signs listed here. These can include:

·         Pain that is mostly centered in the back, shoulders, abdomen, neck, or arms.

·         Shortness of breath and fatigue.

·         Insomnia that began before the heart attack happened.

·         Unexplained anxiety.

·         Cold sweats.

·         A feeling of indigestion or heartburn.

·         Nausea and vomiting.

If you believe you might be having a heart attack, use your medical alert system to get help right away. A single push of the panic button will send a call to Alert1’s Command Center, where trained professionals will get in touch with emergency services. They will stay on the line with you until those life-saving helpers are at your door.

How Can I Prevent Coronary Artery Disease?

Since we all have it, there’s no way to prevent it. However, you can certainly reduce many of your risk factors and make it much less likely that you’ll be affected by the disease. Changes in lifestyle are one of the primary ways to make sure you stay as healthy as possible[6].

·         Get regular medical checkups. This is vitally important for senior health, but especially for those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

·         Stop smoking. Tobacco products can cause a whole host of problems, including making any sort of heart problem much worse. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

·         Watch your weight. Those who are overweight are at greater risk for heart problems. If you need to drop a few pounds, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about a good diet.

·         Stick to a proven diet. Speak to your doctor about a diet that includes heart-healthy foods that can lower your cholesterol or reduce your sodium intake. The Cleveland Clinic recommends the Mediterranean diet.

·         Get more active. You can reduce your risk of a heart attack by exercising for at least 30 minutes several times per week. Your doctor can recommend a good exercise program. Even walking for 30 minutes, five times per week, can help lower your risk.

·         Drink alcohol in moderation. Women should have no more than one drink per day; men can have two.

·         Take your medications. Medicine to prevent high blood pressure and lower cholesterol are some of the most common ones prescribed to help stave off the effects of coronary artery disease. Take them on time, every time, to stay healthier.

Never Hesitate to Use Your Medical Alarm

Any condition dealing with the heart is nothing to play around with. A heart attack can weaken the heart muscle even further than CAD already has; that means that every minute that passes could mean more damage and a more difficult recovery time. That’s why you should never hesitate to use an emergency button alarm when you feel as though you might be having a heart attack or similar issue. Alert1’s Command Center stands ready 24/7 to answer your call and get you the help you need.

Worried about it being a “false alarm”? Don’t be. Alert1 never charges for false alarms or multiple button pushes. It’s always better to be safe than sorry – and we want you to be safe!