Although it’s no bigger than your clenched fist, your heart beats more than 100,000 times a day. To pump the blood that nourishes all parts of your body, your heart muscle needs its own supply of oxygen-rich blood. Your heart’s blood flows through the coronary arteries. Blockages in these arteries cause coronary artery disease(CAD).
Who Gets CAD?
CAD strikes about 13 million Americans. But some people are more vulnerable than others. For example, men develop CAD about 10 years before women. Here is a list of the major CAD risk factors:
A strong squeezing pressure deep in the center of the chest or off to the left side is typical of CAD. The pain can radiate to the neck and jaw or the shoulder and arms, particularly on the left. Sweating, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, an erratic pulse, or shortness of breath may also occur.
CAD can be tricky. Many other conditions can cause similar symptoms, but some patients have unusual complaints or none at all. Silent CAD is most common in women and in diabetic people.
When the pain of CAD comes on after predictable stress (such as exercise, strong emotion, or exposure to cold) and is relieved by rest or nitroglycerin (see below), it is called stable angina. But if the pain starts without obvious cause or if it persists, it may represent unstable angina or a heart attack, which are medical emergencies.
Early treatment of unstable angina and heart attacks is crucial. It’s your job to call your doctor or 911 if there is any chance you are having a heart attack. Doctors would much rather see a false alarm than a tragedy that could have been prevented.