Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. This condition is called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a slow process characterized by an accumulation of lipids (fatty material) and inflammatory cells (lymphocytes) on the walls of the coronary arteries causing them to narrow. The process begins in the first decades of life but does not present symptoms until the narrowing of the coronary artery decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. This can lead to an ischemia which provokes a lack of myocardial oxygenation and leads to acute coronary syndrome (unstable angina or an acute myocardial infarction).
The symptoms can be very noticeable but it should be also noted that on occasion, one can have the illness and not show any symptoms, especially in the early stages of heart disease.
Chest pain or discomfort (angina) is the most common symptom. You feel this pain when the heart is not getting enough blood or oxygen. The pain may feel different from person to person:
- It may feel heavy or like someone is squeezing your heart. You may feel it under your breast bone (sternum). You may also feel it in your neck, arms, stomach, or upper back.
- The pain most often occurs with activity or emotion. It goes away with rest or a medicine called nitroglycerin.
- Other symptoms include shortness of breath and fatigue with activity (exertion).
Women, elderly persons and diabetics are more predisposed to having different symptoms other than chest pain, such as fatigue, shortness of breath or general weakness.
Patients with multiple risk factors have a high risk of suffering coronary artery disease and therefore, have more possibilities of an angina or heart attack.
Gene or region studied