Here’s what to look for and how to take care of yourself if you have symptoms of coronary artery disease (coronary heart disease).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women. It occurs when fatty deposits, also called plaque, build up in your arteries and decrease or block the flow of blood to your heart. Knowing the symptoms and taking early action greatly improve your chances of survival.
Coronary artery disease symptoms
While a heart attack is the worst case scenario of coronary artery disease, some patients experience recurring episodes of mild chest discomfort with activity. Here are symptoms you should be wary of:
- Chest pain or discomfort in the center or left side of your chest. This can last for a few minutes or longer. The pain can subside and return.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath combined with chest pain. This can also occur before you have any discomfort in your chest.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat.
- Feeling nauseous, light-headed, weak, and fatigued.
If you have any of these coronary artery disease symptoms, call 911 immediately. You may be having a heart attack. The CDC notes a person’s chance of surviving a heart attack is high if emergency treatment is administered as soon as the symptoms occur.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they are having a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to recognize the warning signs.
If you’ve had any of these coronary artery disease symptoms, contact your physician. You can also talk to your doctor about measures you can take to lower your risk for coronary artery disease. Your doctor will want to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels.
Tests you may need for coronary artery disease
- EKG (electrocardiogram) measures the activity, rate, and regularity of your heartbeat.
- Echocardiogram uses ultrasound to show a picture of your heart.
- Exercise stress test will measure your heart rate while you’re walking on a treadmill. This will let you know how well your heart is working to pump blood.
- Chest x-ray takes a picture of your heart, lungs, and other organs in your chest.
- Cardiac catheterization checks for blockage in your arteries.
- Coronary angiogram looks for blockage and flow of blood in your coronary arteries.
How to prevent coronary artery disease
High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and having suffered from a previous heart attack or stroke can increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease. Being overweight, eating a poor diet, not exercising, and drinking alcohol to excess also raises the chance of a heart attack. Heredity is a factor, too.
To reduce your risks of developing coronary artery disease, you’ll have to make some lifestyle changes. If you smoke, it’s smart to quit. You might also have to reduce the amount of sodium and fat in your diet and take steps to lower your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about what you should and should not eat.
Your doctor may recommend an exercise plan. If you haven’t exercised in a while, you might want to start with walking. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new physical activity.
Your doctor may prescribe medications that can lower your risks for getting a heart attack; these usually include medicines for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and low blood flow.
Other options are surgical procedures that restore blood flow to your heart. Your doctor will be able to discuss your choices, and together you’ll be able to find the options that are best for you.
February 15, 2023
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA