Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the U.S. (1.1 million Americans per year). CHD is caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries that often leads to a heart attack.
About half of all heart attacks are fatal. Most deaths occur within 1 hour of the start of heart attack symptoms and before the person receives medical attention.
The heart muscle requires a continuous flow of oxygen-rich blood to function. Oxygen-rich blood is provided by the coronary arteries. CAD (coronary artery disease) causes the arteries to become narrow, preventing normal blood flow to the heart. Plaque, most commonly caused by diet, can build up in the arteries. Once plaque hardens, blood clots can occur. If a blood clot completely blocks an artery, the heart muscle will lose oxygen. Within a short period, destruction of heart muscle cells occurs, causing permanent heart damage. This is a heart attack. The severity of damage to the heart muscle depends on the size of the affected area, the level of blockage in the artery and the time between symptom and treatment.
Who’s At Risk?
Some Americans are more likely than others to suffer a heart attack because they possess certain “risk factors”.
Factors that increase the risk of a heart attack are:
* Pre-existing coronary heart diseases, including a previous heart attack, a prior angioplasty or bypass surgery, or angina.
* Age. In men, the risk increases after age 45; in women, the risk increases after age 55.
* Family history
* High blood pressure
* High blood cholesterol
* Overweight and obesity
* Physical inactivity
Individual response to stress may also be a risk factor. There is a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and the amount of stress in a person’s life. Stress can cause individuals to engage in unhealthy habits that increase the risk of having a heart attack. People under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would, or drink too much alcohol.