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|What is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries? Dr. Gregory J. Dehmer explains.
While the heart is an amazing organ that works dependably for us throughout our lives, a number of things can go wrong with it, as well as with the network of blood vessels that supply oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to organs and tissues throughout your body.
More than 16 million Americans are affected by coronary artery disease, a condition where the heart is not able to get enough blood. Coronary artery disease occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle become narrowed and hardened due to the build-up of plaque (fatty deposits in between the layers of the wall of the artery). When blood vessels grow narrow and less elastic (a process called atherosclerosis) due to plaque build-up, blood flow is restricted and your heart is not able to get enough blood and oxygen. When this happens, you may feel chest pain (angina) or have a heart attack.
Angina is a feeling of pain, pressure or other discomfort that may be felt in the chest, arm, back, jaw or neck if the heart is not receiving enough oxygen because arteries that carry blood to the heart are partially blocked due to a build-up of plaque in the artery walls. Angina symptoms may also include indigestion, nausea, cold sweats and anxiety.
Angina can be stable or unstable. Stable angina is less severe and often occurs during exercise or other vigorous activities, when the heart muscles require more oxygen. Unstable angina does not go away when you rest and requires immediate medical attention. Any chest pain you experience should be checked by a doctor.
Like the other muscles in your body, the muscle of your heart requires oxygen and nutrients to remain strong and healthy and to function as it should. When blood flow through the vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscles is cut off, either by a build-up of plaque or a blood clot, a “heart attack” occurs. Without oxygen, the heart muscle can be damaged or die. If the muscle is damaged, scar tissue may result, interfering with your heart’s ability to pump blood to the body.
Coronary artery disease is caused by a disease process that is not limited to the blood vessels in the heart. This is why people who have heart disease may also have peripheral artery disease (when narrowed arteries restrict blood flow to the legs and feet) or renal (kidney) artery disease (blocked arteries limit blood flow to the kidneys), or they may be at risk for stroke.
It is a good idea to speak with your doctor or cardiologist about cardiovascular disease and whether you have risk factors that can be managed. SecondsCount has developed a list a questions for you to print and take with you. Please, make an appointment, and find these important questions to print here.