Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. Like all your organs, it is made of tissue and must be supplied with oxygen-rich blood and nutrients at all times. Although the inside chambers of the heart are filled with blood, the heart tissue itself is fed from a network of blood vessels. These are called the coronary arteries.
What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease is a narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries. When the blood flow is slowed due to this narrowing, the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients. Often this results in chest pain, particularly during physical exertion. If one or more of the coronary arteries are completely blocked however, the result could be a heart attack.
What Causes Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged by plaque buildup in the artery walls. This plaque buildup in the arteries is called atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening of the arteries.” Plaque is composed of excessive cholesterol and other substances floating through the bloodstream. Over time, plaque builds up on the arterial walls, causing them to become rough. Because blood clots form more easily on these roughened walls, the blood clots often form around the plaque and further narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow even more.
What You Can Do
Whether you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or you want to take steps to prevent it, there are several things you can do.
Smoking, including cigarettes, pipes and cigars, can greatly increase the risk of heart disease. Smokers have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than nonsmokers.
Lower your cholesterol.
Excessive lipids (fatty substances including cholesterol and triglycerides), especially in the form of LDL cholesterol, cause the buildup of fatty deposits within your arteries, reducing or blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. Read these articles to learn more about lowering your cholesterol.
Control your blood pressure.
High blood pressure increases the workload of the heart and kidneys, increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. To learn more about controlling your blood pressure and preventing hypertension and stroke check out these articles.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Research has shown that being overweight contributes to the onset of cardiovascular disease. Excess weight also raises blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, lowers HDL cholesterol and increases the risk of diabetes.Find information to help you determine your healthy weight and maintain it by visiting our weight management section.
Get regular exercise.
The heart, like other muscles, needs regular exercise to stay strong and healthy. Exercising helps improve how well the heart pumps blood through your body. Exercise can also help reduce many other risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and manage stress. Get help in starting or enhancing your exercise program. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Follow a heart-healthy diet.
Eat foods low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats). Also consume a diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Find out more information about eating a heart-healthy diet.
Limit your consumption of alcohol.
Consuming too much alcohol can lead to many health problems including increased blood pressure, high triglycerides and obesity. Therefore it is important to limit the amount of alcohol you consume.
Learn to manage stress.
Research has shown that there is a link between stress and heart disease. Since some amount of stress is unavoidable, it is important to learn how to manage it. Relaxation techniques, managing your time, and setting realistic goals are all good ways to manage stress.For more information, visit our Managing Stress section.