Understanding Coronary Artery Disease


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Understanding Coronary Artery Disease

  1. 1. Understanding Coronary Artery DiseaseHaving symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD) or blockages in the blood vessels to theheart, causes fear in some people. Other people ignore the problem or deny that anything iswrong, sometimes waiting to seek treatment until it is too late. Although, these are all normalfeelings, they can interfere with diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Learning about CAD, howit can be treated, and how to prevent future problems will help you to live with heart disease.The HeartThe heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart has a right sideand a left side. The right side pumps blood returning from the body to the lungs where itpicks up oxygen and nutrients. The blood then goes to left side of the heart. The left sidepumps the blood out through the aorta, to the bodys organs and tissues. Blood is carriedfrom the heart through blood vessels called arteries.All organs, including the heart, brain, kidneys, limbs and tissues must get oxygen andnutrients from the blood. After feeding the bodys organs and tissues, the blood picks upwaste products. Blood then returns to the right side of the heart through different bloodvessels called veins. Both the right and left sides pump blood at the same time and theentire process described above is repeated with each heart beat.
  2. 2. Page 2AtherosclerosisAtherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," is a buildupof fatty deposits along the inside wall of arteries. Thearteries in the body supply oxygen and nutrient-rich blood tomuscles. As the fatty deposits build up, the artery openinggradually narrows and blood flow to the muscle isdecreased. When blood flow is decreased in the arteries tothe heart (coronary artery disease), angina, shortness ofbreath or even a heart attack may occur. If arteries in thelegs are affected (peripheral vascular disease) leg pain(claudication) occurs. Finally, atherosclerosis of the arteriesto the brain can cause strokes or transient ischemic attacks(TIAs), which are "mini strokes".Coronary Risk FactorsSeveral factors have been found to increase the likelihood ofgetting atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. These Risk Factorsare called risk factors. Two main types of risk factors exist.Non-modifiable risk factors are those you have no control Non-Modifiableover. These include your family history, age, and gender. C Family HistoryMales are at higher risk than females. C MaleYou can control or do something about modifiable risk factors. C AgeSmoking, cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure(hypertension), inactive lifestyle, stress and being overweight Modifiableare all modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors can bereduced or eliminated if you make the necessary life-style C Smokingchanges. C Cholesterol C DiabetesEven changing one risk factor can make a difference C High Blood Pressurein your heart health. Studies have shown that C Inactive Lifestylereducing your risk factors can prevent coronary artery C Stressdisease from getting worse, and may even cause it to C Weightimprove. This table will help you determine your riskfactors. Think about which risk factors you want towork on changing.Coronary ArteriesThe heart must constantly receiveoxygen and nutrients. These nutrientsare supplied to the heart muscle itselfby blood carried through vessels calledcoronary arteries. Three main arteries,one on the right and two on the left,supply the heart muscle with blood.These arteries come over the top of theheart and divide into many large andsmall branches. All parts of the heartmuscle are supplied with oxygen andnutrient-rich blood through thesebranches. These arteries are thevessels that become narrow incoronary artery disease.
  3. 3. Page 3Collateral CirculationA narrowed or blocked coronary artery maycause the body to develop or open new bloodvessels near the area of heart muscle itnormally supplies. The new blood supply iscalled collateral circulation. This usuallytakes several months to years to develop. Ifenough collateral blood flow forms, anginamay decrease, a heart attack may beprevented, or healing after a heart attack maybe improved.AnginaAngina is a pain or discomfort in the chest,arms or jaw. It frequently occurs duringexercise, stress or other activities when yourheart rate and blood pressure increase. Withthese activities, the heart muscle needs moreblood with oxygen. The pain is a signal thatnot enough blood is getting through the arteries. Angina is usually brief, lasting a fewminutes and is commonly relieved by rest and / or nitroglycerin. Angina is not a heartattack. During angina the flow of blood to the heart muscle is only reduced temporarily.Angina does not cause permanent damage to the heart muscle.Heart AttackA heart attack results from a prolonged lack of blood to a part of the heart muscle. Thisoccurs when a blood clot forms in the narrowed artery and the artery becomes blocked. Aheart attack causes part of the heart muscle to be permanently damaged. The medicalterm for a heart attack is myocardial infarction, or MI.Soon after a heart attack the healing process begins. In the first week after a heart attack,dead muscle cells removed by the bodys whiteblood cells. There may be a slight fever duringthis time. The heart becomes thin and may be atrisk for more damage.After the dead muscle cells are removed, a scarforms in the damaged area of the heart muscle.This scar is formed within the first few weeks,however, it takes about 4 - 6 weeks for the scarto become firm and tough. Healing withRecovery from a heart attack begins in the Scar Tissuehospital, but continues after one goes home.Most people are able to return to normalactivities, including returning to work, within 6 to12 weeks after a heart attack.
  4. 4. Page 4Daily periods of rest are important during the first 4 - 6 weeks after a heart attack to preventcomplications and allow healing to take place. Your activities will be limited at first, but as thescar becomes firmer more activities are allowed. Your health care team will teach you aboutyour activities at home before you are discharged. Healing times vary and complete healingfrom your heart attack usually takes 2 - 3 months.Scarred tissue does not help the pumping action of the heart. Therefore, it is important thatundamaged part of your heart muscle works as well as possible. The rest of the muscles inyour body need to become efficient as well.The Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Program is designed to help safely condition your heartmuscle, and improve your general fitness level. You will also be taught how to makenecessary life-style changes to prevent further heart problems. A staff member of theCardiac Rehabilitation Program will provide you with information about the OSU Program orprograms in your area.Treatment of Coronary Artery DiseaseThere are three types of treatment for coronary artery disease: C Medical therapy C Percutaneous Catheter Interventions C Coronary artery bypass surgeryThe type of treatment depends on the coronary artery disease a person has. All thesetreatments improve blood flow to the heart muscle and decrease the risk of a heart attack.No matter what type of treatment is done, it does not "cure" coronary artery disease.Treatments must be combined with modifying your coronary risk factors for long termsuccess.C Medical Therapy Treatment with medicines is done to decrease the hearts demand for oxygen and nutrients. Medicines can increase blood flow to the heart muscle by relaxing the coronary arteries, decreasing the heart rate and decreasing the blood pressure. Medical therapy is often used first or sometimes as a temporary treatment until angioplasty or bypass surgery is done. If medical therapy fails, angioplasty or surgery is often the next step. Common types of medicines used are nitroglycerin, beta-blockers and calcium antagonists.C Percutaneous Catheter Interventions These procedures are done to decrease the amount of blockage in one of the coronary arteries. All of the procedures are done by passing a small tube (catheter) into one of the arteries in the leg, up to the heart and into the coronary artery. Each type of procedure decreases blockage in a different way. "Balloon" angioplasty "cracks" the blockage and pushes it to the side of the wall. Often a stent, which is a small metal tube, is placed at the site of the blockages to help prevent the blockage from returning. Other techniques, such as laser and roto blader, also are ways of decreasing the amount of blockage. None of these procedures results in a cure for coronary artery disease and there is a chance that the blockage could return.
  5. 5. Page 5C Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery Coronary artery bypass surgery is done to improve the blood flow to the heart muscle by bypassing the blockages. Surgery should decrease or completely stop your angina. Bypass surgery is not a cure for heart disease, but it should improve the quality of your life. During bypass surgery, a blood vessel from your leg or chest wall is used to bypass the blockage in your coronary artery. Usually, one end of the blood vessel is sewn into the coronary artery below the blockage. The original blockage remains, but blood is directed around it. This operation gives the heart muscle a new supply of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.After your heart surgery, you may have some chest pain. This pain is from the incision inyour chest and it usually does not radiate to your arms or jaw. The pain does not go awaywith rest and gets worse if you push the chest on or near the incision. This pain can berelieved with pain medicines. With time, pain from the surgery goes away.© Copyright, (4/2001) Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Services The Ohio State University Medical Center < Upon request all patient education handouts are available in other forms for people with special hearing, vision, and language needs, call (614) 293-3191. For more written health information, please call (614) 293-3707.