Coronary heart disease (CAD) is the buildup of plaque in the lining of an artery. When the plaque becomes irritated and inflamed, it breaks open and triggers a cascade of inflammatory reaction from the body and causes the artery to be completely blocked.
We have six miles of arteries and if blood cannot flow through the artery the muscle can die. It can happen all over the body with adverse effects—for example, if blood flow is prevented to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Heart disease is very common because it’s largely caused by “modifiable” lifestyle choices: diet, exercising and smoking. “Non-modifiable” factors that increase risk include age, sex and genetic predisposition. Men are at risk if a first-degree relative had a heart attack before age 45; for women it’s age 55.
Men Vs. Women
Heart disease risk factors are the same for men and women; however, physical symptoms and post heart attack outcomes vary, say the experts. Women may not experience the classic chest pain of a heart attack and might delay medical treatment, which worsens prognosis. It also appears that women’s arterial blockages are less severe in the larger arteries of the heart but instead they have abnormalities in tiny capillaries that are not well visualized with conventional testing—but are just as serious. Women also die more often from heart disease than men for the above reasons, as well as not being as vigilant about post-operative care.
To identify your risk for CAD, assess your risk factors: are you obese, a smoker, physically inactive, have diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension or a family history of heart disease? If so, you’re at risk. If you’re uncertain, talk to a doctor. Simple tests like blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol can determine your risk.