What Should I Do If I Have Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease?

          Heart disease is the number one killer in the world. It is estimated that 17.9 die from heart diseases. In Malaysia, heart disease is the number one killer for those aged 40 and above. Taking care of heart health plays an important role in lowering risk for developing heart diseases. Most heart diseases are actually diseases that are caused by the long years of bad lifestyle which ultimately shows damages to the heart in the form of heart diseases. In this article, we will be learning more about coronary artery disease which is one of the common heart diseases.

          Coronary artery disease is defined as the presence of atherosclerosis in coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis is a build-up of plaque inside the artery. In case of coronary artery disease, the build-up plaque damages the coronary artery of the heart. Plaque is a build-up of fatty material that causes the artery to become thickened and narrowed. This led to low to blockage of blood flow that supplies oxygen and nutrients for the heart.

          Coronary artery disease begins in childhood and studies show that formation of plaque even from teenage years will likely stay in the person for the rest of their life. Most people will have plaques but what makes it different from plaques in coronary artery disease is the amount of plaque that is significantly high and thick in those with coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is a slow developing disease which means a person usually exhibits symptoms only when the coronary artery is severely damaged or blocked by the plaques.

          Identifying risk factors can help a person understand if they are at risk for coronary artery disease. Risk factors include those with high levels of cholesterol, those with hypertension, people with diabetes, presence of family history with heart diseases, older people, low physical activity, smoking and obesity. If you find yourself with any of the risk factors, you probably worry about the likelihood of developing coronary artery disease. The question now is, what should you do if you have risk factors of coronary artery disease? Below are what you can do to lower the risk for the disease:

1)    Practise healthy eating habits by eating balanced meals and food low in bad fat such as trans-fat and saturated fat.

2)    Engage in an active lifestyle by doing exercise and avoid sitting for a long time or a sedentary lifestyle.

3)    Treat high blood pressure and control blood sugar level. This can be done by leading an active lifestyle or taking medication if prescribed by doctors.

4)    Try to maintain a healthy weight by losing excess weight through a balanced diet and exercises.

5)    Get regular health screening. Treating diseases such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia or diabetes early can greatly reduce the likelihood of coronary artery disease.

6)    Give up smoking. Smoking not only increases risk for coronary artery disease but also many other diseases.

7)    Manage stress such as learning relaxation techniques.

8)    Get enough good quality sleep.

          It is important to actively take steps in preventing coronary artery disease especially those with risk factors. This is because coronary artery disease is actually a preventable disease since 80% of the risk factors for the disease can be modified. Modifiable risk factors are factors that can be controlled which includes body weight, blood pressure level, blood sugar level, cholesterol level and lifestyle. It means that a person can do many things to lower this percentage. Hence, to only blame on the other 20% of non-modifiable risk factors that cannot be controlled such as older age and family history of heart diseases is quite unfair. This shows that genetics and lifestyle play hand in hand in developing coronary artery disease but focus needs to be addressed on making changes to modifiable risk factors.

          Whenever a person experiences symptoms associated with coronary artery disease, they need to get to a doctor immediately as this could lead to life-threatening. Symptoms such as chest pain, light-headedness, nausea, pain or discomfort of the arms and shoulders and breathing difficulty should be signs of an ongoing coronary artery disease. In other words, signs of heart attack should definitely raise high suspicion of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease eventually led to weak heart muscles which in times led to heart failure.

          Treating coronary artery heart disease depends on the severity of the disease itself. In serious cases, heart surgery may be needed to preserve the heart functions. In other conditions, treatment can be from lifestyle changes to prescription of medications. Medicines can reduce and prevent symptoms from coronary heart disease. Common medications include antihypertensive drugs such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, antidiabetic medications such as metformin, anticholesterolemic medications such as statins and nitrates such as nitro-glycerine to prevent or relieve chest pain.

          In essence, coronary artery disease is a disease that can be prevented even if you already have risk factors. It is important to prevent coronary artery disease as it is one of the lethal diseases. Lifestyle modifications show great effect on those at risk for coronary heart disease and those already diagnosed with the disease. Discuss with your healthcare provider if you have risk factors. Always follow doctor’s advice whenever you are asked to take medication or undergo treatments.