Resource Heart Health

What is ischaemic heart disease?

The heart pumps about 70 times per minute. It not only pumps blood to the lungs where it picks up oxygen, it also circulates the oxygen-rich blood through the body – and then the whole process starts again.

The arteries leading to your heart can be blocked or narrowed by the build-up of fatty deposits (plaque), which consist of fatty material, calcium, scar tissue and proteins. These can bulge inwards and obstruct the flow of blood. A blood clot can form on the tip of the cholesterol plaque, which narrows the artery, or even blocks it completely. These blood clots can break off and, if the blood flow is stopped completely, result in heart muscle dying. This is called a heart attack.

According to Dr Edward Fisher from the American Heart Association, people most likely to get coronary artery disease include those with a family history of the disease, those with high cholesterol levels, obese people, smokers, those following an unhealthy diet, people with diabetes, those who lead an inactive lifestyle, older people, men over the age of 45, and people with high blood pressure (hypertension).

Typical warning signs of ischaemic heart disease include chest pains (also called angina), shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart palpitations.

While you can’t change your genetic inheritance, you can reduce your chances of ischaemic heart disease by quitting smoking, checking that your cholesterol levels don’t become too high, controlling your blood pressure, getting regular exercise, and keeping your weight in check. If you have diabetes, your risk is also higher, especially if your blood glucose levels are poorly controlled.

Many people take medication to control high blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels – all measures to prevent a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.

If a person had a heart attack and survived, there are several treatments available to prevent another attack. This includes angioplasty (in which a tiny balloon is inserted into the artery to reopen it), the placing of a stent (device placed in the narrowed or blocked artery to keep it opened), or bypass surgery.

Warning signs of a heart attack (e.g. crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, pain that radiates from the chest to the neck, jaw or one or both arms) should be taken very seriously – seek medical attention immediately.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)


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