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Am I at Risk for Heart Disease?

What is coronary artery disease ("atherosclerosis" or "hardening of the arteries")? Coronary heart disease is when there is narrowing of the major arteries that feed the heart. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to work efficiently. When the major arteries become narrowed or blocked, the heart has to work extra hard because not enough blood is supplied to the heart. Coronary artery disease can develop slowly and take decades before it produces symptoms, or it can come on suddenly. Left untreated, it can lead to angina or acute myocardial infarction.

How common is coronary artery disease?

  • Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for men and women.
  • Every year, about 1.5 million Americans suffer a heart attack.
  • 65 percent of Americans will have some form of cardiovascular disease by retirement age.

What causes coronary artery disease?
The exact cause is not known but can be caused by plaque and cholesterol buildup within the walls of the major arteries that feed the heart. There are many risk factors for heart disease that include:

  • Age, sex, gender
    and family history
  • High blood pressure
  • Tobacco use
  • Being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Sleep apnea

Diagnosis is based on your medical and family histories, physical exam, and the results from tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Angiogram

  • Treatments for heart disease may include lifestyle changes, medicines, medical procedures and surgery.
  • Lifestyle changes include following a healthy diet, being physically active regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing stress.

What can I do to prevent coronary artery disease?

  • Taking action to control your risk factors.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet.
  • If you're overweight or obese, work with your doctor to create a reasonable weight-loss plan.
  • Try to be physically active regularly.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Know your family history of atherosclerosis.
  • If lifestyle changes aren't enough, you also may need medicines to control your atherosclerosis risk factors. Take all of your medicines as prescribed.

This article was provided by Valeriani R. Bead, MD, with MedStar Health Cardiology Associates. Dr. Bead received his medical school degree from Drexel University School of Medicine, completed his internship and residency at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, and was fellowship training in adult cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is board certified in internal medicine, with a sub-specialty of cardiology disease.

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