The heart, like any muscle in the human body, needs a steady supply of oxygen and vital nutrients, supplied by the blood flowing through the coronary arteries. A buildup of fat and cholesterol over time can cause the coronary arteries to narrow or clog, slowing the flow of blood to the heart and ultimately causing coronary heart disease (CHD). Insufficient blood supply to the heart may also trigger angina. If this flow stops completely, the likely result is a heart attack. Additionally, the oxygen starved portion of the heart begins to die, which may result in permanent damage to the muscle.
Causes of Coronary Heart Disease
Atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of coronary arteries, is one of the main causes coronary heart disease. As the arteries narrow, less blood is able pass through the vessel, effectively slowing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart.
Typically, cholesterol and fat in the blood are deposited on the artery walls. This build-up narrows the arteries, slowing or blocking the blood flow. High cholesterol levels in the diet increase the likelihood of cholesterol deposits forming on the artery walls. Cholesterol deposits can begin to form in the arteries as early as childhood and typically worsen with age. The steady buildup of these deposits over time are the primary cause of coronary heart disease.
In addition to high blood cholesterol, additional factors such as high blood pressure and smoking are also contributory causes of coronary heart disease. On average, each of these factors effectively doubles the chance of an individual developing heart disease at some point in their lives. A person with all three risk factors is therefore eight times more likely to develop heart disease than someone with none of these risk factors.
Obesity and a lack of physical activity can be contributory causes of coronary heart disease. Other factors such as gender, age, and heredity are beyond the patient’s control, but may also be linked to CHD. On the other hand, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity, are all CHD risk factors that can be changed with healthy changes to a person’s lifestyle. No amount of clean living, however, can completely remove the risk of CHD, and some people do develop the disease without having any of these risk factors.
Although medical procedures can be highly effective in treating coronary heart disease, the risk control and lifestyle changes related to disease prevention remain the best method of CHD management.