CHD is the most common type of heart disease. CHD occurs when the coronary arteries, that supply blood to the heart muscle, become hardened and narrowed due to the plaque buildup. The plaque buildup and the narrowing and hardening of the arteries is called atherosclerosis. Plaques are a mixture of fatty substances including cholesterol and other lipids. Blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart can be reduced or even fully blocked with a growing plaque. Plaques may also rupture and cause blood clots that block arteries.
CHD can lead to a heart attack. Angina can also occur. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. Over time, CHD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure, a serious problem where the heart cannot pump blood the way that it should. Also, irregular heart beats, called arrhythmias, can develop.
The most common symptom of CHD is angina. In some people the first sign of CHD is a heart attack. Doctors can assess a patient's risk status by checking several factors, including blood pressure, blood cholesterol and glucose, history of heart disease, and other factors. Doctors can perform several tests to assess CHD in patients who are at high risk or have symptoms. These may include one or more of these tests:
ECG or EKG (electrocardiogram), which measures the electrical function and the rate and regularity of your heartbeat.
Echocardiogram, which creates a picture of the heart.
Exercise stress test, to measure how well the heart pumps at greater than usual workloads when it needs more oxygen.
Chest x-ray, a picture of the organs and structures inside the chest.
Cardiac catheterization, a thin, flexible tube is passed through an artery in the groin or arm to reach the coronary arteries. The tube lets your doctor check the inside of your arteries to see if there is any blockage. Your doctor also can measure the pressure and blood flow in the heart's chambers, collect blood samples from the heart, and examine the arteries of the heart by x-ray.
Coronary angiography, which is usually performed along with cardiac catheterization. A dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries. The doctor can then take an x-ray to see the flow of blood through the heart and check for blockages.
For persons with CHD, treatment will involve addressing those factors that put them at risk for CHD and heart attack. The doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce risk. Medicines and medical treatments may be needed. Medicines are available to treat high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, irregular heart beats, blood flow, and other potential problems. Some advanced treatments and surgical procedures may be used to help restore blood flow to the heart muscle.
In principle, all people can take steps to lower their personal risk of heart disease and heart attack by addressing their risk factors. People who already have heart disease especially need to control their risk factors.