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February is Heart Health Month

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Your heart is a muscle and it requires oxygen-rich blood to function optimally. Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease, occurs when the arteries that supply blood to your heart have a buildup of plaque. Plaque is a fatty substance made up of cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in blood. Plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis, causes a narrowing of the coronary arteries which reduces the amount of blood that gets to your heart. This reduced blood flow causes the heart to have to work harder than normal resulting in chest pain or pressure and can lead to a heart attack.

The best way to determine if you have or are at risk for CAD is to speak with your health care provider. They may recommend you have an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), coronary angiogram, chest x-ray, and/or blood test preformed. These tests will help your provider determine how well your heart is working. The following can increase your risk for CAD:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • A family history of heart disease

Taking steps toward a heart-healthy lifestyle can help you prevent and even treat coronary artery disease. The habits listed below can help you keep your heart and blood vessels healthy.

  • Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke. This may be the best thing you can do to prevent heart disease.
  • Exercise. Staying active can improve your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. A diet full of high-fiber foods, such as fruits and veggies, and low in sodium and added sugar can help lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your chances of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes which are all risk factors for CAD.

Other treatments for CAD include medications, such as statins or aspirin, and in severe cases surgical procedures. You and your provider can decide on the right treatment for you based on your condition and risks. Being diagnosed with CAD can be hard to accept and understand especially if you don’t currently have any symptoms, but it is important to realize how serious the disease is and what you can do to manage it and keep it from getting worse.

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