From an interview with
Dr. Brian Wall
McLeod Cardiology Associates – Florence
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the US. It is caused by plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). McLeod Cardiologist Dr. Brian Wall explains the risk factors and symptoms for this condition that is the leading cause of death in our country.
What is Coronary Artery Disease and how common is it?
The term we use for coronary artery disease refers to the disease state in which someone may have a blockage in one of the vessels of their heart. It is actually pretty common. If you look at stats, it’s about one in 20 adults, which makes it one of the most common forms of heart disease that we have in the country and especially in our community here in the Pee Dee. That being said, there are various degrees of coronary artery disease. You can have something that’s very mild, which doesn’t necessarily cause any symptoms or limit you with what you can do. And then on the other hand, you can have severe disease, which would cause things like chest pain or shortness of breath or dizziness.
What is the difference between Coronary Artery Disease and an actual heart attack?
A heart attack is when one of those blockages gets to the point where it is stopping pretty much all blood flow in the heart. When that happens, we do blood work, which provides information on signs of damage to the heart muscle itself. In general, coronary artery disease is a catchall term for any degree of blockages that you may have.
What are the causes of Coronary Artery Disease?
The first factor is genetics for sure, and those are just the cards you’re dealt due to your bloodlines. But there’s an environmental part to that as well. And what’s included in that environmental part is, number one, do you smoke? That would be the first risk factor. Another one would be high blood pressure. Third would be high cholesterol, and a fourth may be diabetes or high blood sugar. So those are just some of the factors, but they kind of all intertwine together to become reasons for Coronary Artery Disease.
What symptoms should cause us enough concern to warrant seeing a cardiologist?
We’ve all seen images in which there is a guy or gal who is holding a closed clenched fist over their chest. And while that’s the most representative thing that we show, it only accounts for about half of the presentations we see as far as chest pain. Other symptoms include shortness of breath when they exert themselves, such as walking. Some people might say they used to be able to walk two miles every day, but now they can only walk a mile because they’re fatigued or have a little discomfort or pressure in their chest. Other people may have a racing heart. Some people may have lightheadedness and dizziness. And that’s why I try to encourage people to be as active as possible. Recent studies have shown if you can get 8,000 steps per day, that can decrease your risk of cardiovascular events by 60%.
But on top of that, when you’re active, if you have any form of heart disease, that will usually present itself a lot earlier than someone who lives a pretty sedentary lifestyle and doesn’t get their heart rate up very much. Because if that’s the case, a lot of times we don’t figure things out that something may be going on until it’s too late. They may have a heart attack; however, people who are active will usually have some signs and symptoms a little bit earlier, and it’s a lot easier for us to treat them. So when would it be important to call 9-1-1 and not be the procrastinator? I tell people if that thought ever crosses your mind, the answer is, yes, you should go ahead and do it. You have to be your biggest advocate for your health. And while no one wants to be a ‘burden on the system’ and come in and feel as if they’re not making good use of people’s time, I often will tell people, especially if you have a history of heart disease or a family history, if you’re having symptoms that you’re worried about and it crosses your mind, then you absolutely need to call 9-1-1.
To learn more about coronary artery disease, speak with a cardiologist near you.