Common Heart Conditions - Coronary Heart Disease
Heart disease is a general term used to describe a number of conditions that affect millions of people all over the world. Under this heading are a number of common heart ailments that either:
- Affect the blood supply to the heart
- Affect the muscles and general functioning of the heart
- Affect the electrical impulse system of the heart
According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO) various forms of heart disease account for 7.3 million deaths in the world every year. Combined with people who have died from strokes, cardiovascular diseases account for 30% of the worldwide death total - this is a huge amount.
The heart itself is a very strong organ and capable of awesome feats, but it's also vulnerable as we can see from the above figures.
Basic overview of the heart and coronary arteries
As most of us know the heart is basically a pump that drives oxygenated blood, received from the lungs, to the rest of the body and sends de-oxygented blood back to the lungs to pick up more oxygen.
Blood carries both oxygen and nutrients to keep the internal organs and body healthy. The heart also needs to have oxygen and nutrition to keep it strong and the coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply these to the heart. The arteries can be seen on the surface of the heart and there are two main branches:
- Right coronary artery
- Left coronary artery
Lets now look at what coronary artery disease actually is.
1. Clench your fist. This is approximately the size of your own heart.
2. It can take under a minute for the heart to pump blood to every cell in your body.
3. Scientists have proof that laughter is good for the heart. Researchers observed that when people laughed the lining of the blood vessels relaxed, so increasing blood flow, for approximately 45 minutes after laughing stopped.
4. Both the zebra fish and red-spotted newts are able to repair their own damaged heart cells. Scientists are researching how this amazing natural ability could be utilised to help humans and other animals.
What is coronary heart disease?
According to National Health Service Statistics (NHSS) in the UK over 94,000 people die each year due to coronary heart disease (CHD). There are a further 2.6 million who are living with the condition. In other countries the statistics are also high for CHD but one major change over the last few years is that it is no longer viewed as a man's disease. The amount of women experiencing CHD is growing and in some areas more women than men have the ailment.
Coronary Heart Disease
As we have seen, the coronary arteries supply the heart with the blood it needs to function. This is of course different from the blood that flows through the heart to supply the whole body. Due to various factors, these arteries can become clogged up with deposits that narrow the space through which the blood flows. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. The deposits are known as atheroma and contain fatty substances (including cholesterol) and cell debris. When the blood supply starts to diminish a number of things can happen:
- When the vessels are narrowed not enough blood supply is given to the heart to work properly. The pain and discomfort of this condition is called angina.
- Sometimes a piece will break off the fatty deposits and can form a clot that can fully block an artery or other vessel.
- If one of these clots blocks off a heart artery completely, preventing blood from getting to the heart muscles, you could suffer permanent heart damage. This is what we call a heart attack. Other names that you may have heard of for a heart attack are - coronary thrombosis, myocardial infarction (MI), acute coronary syndrome.
What causes coronary heart disease?
There are a number of factors that can lead to a person developing CHD. The more factors that a person is exposed to the greater the risk is. Below is a list of the major contributory factors:
- Diabetes - with diabetes the illness has a tendency to make blood vessel walls thicker and more prone to blockage leading to artery disease and heart attack.
- Smoking - the chemicals in cigarette smoke in particular damages the blood vessels of the heart.
- High Blood Pressure - increases the strain on the blood vessels so wearing them out
- Obesity - although obesity itself does not cause CHD, being over weight can lead to other conditions that can cause CHD. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes. In addition, overweight people tend to have high cholesterol levels and an increased risk of high blood pressure, both of which can lead to CHD.
- High Cholesterol - cholesterol is a natural and beneficial fat substance made by our liver from the saturated fats that we eat in food. However, too much cholesterol in the diet can cause narrowing of blood vessels.
- Hereditary factors - according to NHS UK, if you have a male relative under 55 who has developed CHD or a female relative under 65 with CHD then this also increases your chances of developing the condition.
- Lack of exercise. The heart is a powerful muscle that needs to be exercised to keep it healthy and working properly. Lack of exercise leads to a sluggish heart that is prone to developing disease.
- Alcohol - a little alcohol does no harm and some scientific research has shown that wine in particular can be beneficial to the heart. Having said that, not all medical researchers agree that alcohol is beneficial as alternative research has thrown up conflicting results. However, alcohol in excess does cause fat levels in the blood to rise, leading to high blood pressure that can damage the heart vessels. In addition long term drinking and bouts of binge drinking can lead to a condition called cardiomyopathy, where the muscles of the heart are weakened.
How to prevent or minimise the risk of coronary heart disease
The British Heart Foundation and other health organisations have basically the same suggestions on how to minimise the risk of developing coronary heart disease:
- Controlling your blood pressure. The two main ways to keep blood pressure within a normal range - it should be under 140/85mmHg - is to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. If you already have high blood pressure then ensure that you take your medication regularly and have frequent health checks from your doctor.
- Control your alcohol intake - as mentioned previously, high levels of alcohol can damage the heart muscles and cause high blood pressure.
- Give up smoking.
- Regular exercise is essential to keep the heart muscles healthy.
- Keep your weight within your normal range for your height and age.
- A balanced, healthy diet is one of the best ways to minimise the risk of developing CHD. In addition, limit your salt intake as too much can increase blood pressure.
- If you have another condition such as diabetes that increases your risk of developing CHD, then keeping it under control will definitely help to reduce the risks.
- Ensure that any medications prescribed for you for your heart, diabetes, high blood pressure and so on are taken continually as directed.
CHD like many other heart conditions are mostly avoidable or at least we are able to minimise the risks significantly. A few simple changes in lifestyle could add years of quality life to enjoy rather than being endured due to heart disease.