Coronary Artery Disease
What Are the Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?
The most common symptom is of coronary artery disease is angina, called or angina pectoris, or simply chest pain. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness, squeezing or painful feeling. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, back, or jaw.
Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, skipped beats, or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe. If you or someone you are with experience chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the symptoms listed above, don’t wait longer than a few minutes (no more than 5) before calling for help.
How Is Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor can tell if you have coronary artery disease by:
- Talking to you about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors.
- Performing a physical exam.
- Performing diagnostic tests, including an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), exercise stress, electron beam (ultrafast) CT scans, cardiac catheterization, and others. These tests help your doctor evaluate the extent of your coronary heart disease, its effect on the function of your heart and the best form of treatment for you.
How Is Coronary Artery Disease Treated?
Treatment for coronary artery disease involves reducing your risk factors, taking medications, possibly undergoing invasive and/or surgical procedures, and seeing your doctor for regular health care follow up visits.
- Reduce your risk factors. This involves making lifestyle changes. If you smoke, you should quit. Your diet will likely need modifying to reduce your cholesterol, keep your blood pressure in check, and keep blood sugar in control if you have diabetes. Low fat, low salt, and low cholesterol foods are recommended. You should also get more exercise to help maintain a healthy weight. But, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Medications. If making lifestyle changes isn’t enough to control your heart disease, medications may be needed to help your heart work more efficiently and receive more oxygen-rich blood. The drugs you are on depend on you and your specific heart problem.
- Surgery and other procedures. Common procedures to treat coronary artery disease include balloon angioplasty (PTCA), stent placement, and coronary artery bypass surgery. All of these procedures increase blood supply to your heart, but they do not cure coronary heart disease. You will still need to decrease your risk factors to prevent future disease.
Doctors are also studying several innovative ways to treat heart disease. Here are a couple of the more promising ones:
- Angiogenesis. This involves giving substances through the vein or directly into the heart that trigger the heart to grow new blood vessels to bypass the clogged ones.
- EECP. There are an increasing number of patients who have persistent, frequent, and severe chest pain, who have exhausted the standard treatments without successful results. Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP) may stimulate the openings or formation of collaterals (small branches of blood vessels) to create a natural bypass around narrowed or blocked arteries. EECP is a non-invasive treatment for people who have chronic, stable angina; who are not receiving adequate relief from angina by taking nitrate medications; and who do not qualify for an invasive procedure such as bypass surgery, angioplasty, or stenting.
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