Coronary Artery Disease
Your heart needs a steady blood supply to do its job. This blood is supplied by the coronary arteries, which lie on the heart’s surface. Coronary artery disease (CAD) or heart disease occurs when the vessels providing blood to your heart muscle become narrowed or blocked. Arteries harden and lose some of their ability to expand as we age. When the artery wall is damaged, fatty depostis called plaque, can build up inside. If there is a mild restriction in blood flow, there may be no noticeable symptoms at rest. Symptoms such as chest pressure may occur with increased activity or stress indicating your heart is having difficulty receiving enough blood flow. You may experience other symptoms such a heartburn, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, or heavy sweating. When the blood flow is significantly reduced, severe symptoms such as chest pain (angina pectoris), rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias), heart attack (myocardial infarction), or heart failure may occur.
Coronary artery disease can be successfully treated in most people with medications and lifestyle changes. In others, surgical procedures or minimally invasive interventions may be needed.
The Coronary Arteries
The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart. There are two major coronary arteries that branch off from the aorta near the point where the aorta and left ventricle meet. The right coronary artery supplies blood to the right atrium and right ventricle. This artery branches off into the posterior descending artery, which supplies the bottom portion of the left ventricle and the front of the septum with blood. The left main coronary artery branches into the circumflex artery and the left anterior descending artery. The circumflex artery supplies blood to the left atrium, side and back of the left ventricle. The left anterior descending artery supplies the front and bottom of the left ventricle and the front of the septum with blood.
A Beating Heart
The atria and ventricles work together to pump blood through the heart. Your heart also has an electrical system to make this pumping action possible. The heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart.
First, the impulse starts in a small bundle of specialized cells called the sinoatrial (SA) node that is located in the right atrium. This node is the heart’s natural pacemaker. The electrical activity spreads through the walls of the atria and causes them to contract. Then, the atrioventricular (AV) node slows the impulse before it can enter the ventricles. During this period of slowing, the atria are contracting. Finally, the Purkinje fibers send the impulse to the walls of the ventricles causing them to contract.
What is a Normal Heart Rate?
A normal heart rate ranges from 60-100 beats per minute. Your heart rate may increase during times of stress, emotion, fever, or during exercise.
There are several special tests your doctor may order to help diagnose heart damage or other heart conditions. The following are some of the tests available and a short description of each.
- Blood tests: Certain blood tests evaluate the enzyme levels in the blood. Enzymes are released from the heart tissue when damage occurs to the heart muscle.
- Chest X-ray: Chest X-rays show an outline of the heart and lungs on X-ray film. From this film, the doctor can determine the size of your heart and the condition of the lungs.
- Echocardiogram and transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): These tests use ultrasound (sound waves) to create a picture of the heart, the heart chambers and heart valves. These tests reveal the pumping ability of the heart and functioning of the heart valves.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This shows the electrical activity that causes the heart to beat. The written record from the EKG shows heart damage or changes in the rhythm of the heartbeat.
- Nuclear Scans: These scans show areas of the heart that are not getting enough blood. A safe radioactive substance is injected into the body. A special device scans areas of the heart.
- Stress Testing: These tests show how well the heart pumps when it is stressed. This test may involve walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while your heart rate and blood pressure are checked. A chemical stress test involves using a special drug to raise your heart rate so that your doctor can see how well your heart functions under stress. Different types of medications may be used during the chemical stress test. A stress echocardiogram shows areas of your heart that may not be getting enough blood.
The Emotional Aspects of Heart Disease
The emotional side of heart disease should not be ignored. There are certain stages of feelings that everyone experiences during times of crisis. These feelings are outlined below with a few helpful hints for dealing with each stage. Please remember that you are not alone in your emotions. Reach out to a family member or friend, your doctor, or someone who has had a similar diagnosis or treatment.
- Shock: Your initial reaction will probably be shock or numbness. Take time to assess your situation and gather your thoughts.
- Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.” These feelings are fine for a short period. Everyone needs time to process the diagnosis. Brief isolation from people is okay.
- Anger: Directed at whom? Directed at what? Try to think through your anger. Talk about your feelings.
- Bargaining: Some people try to bargain with a higher power for improved health.
- Depression: This is the most commonly experienced emotion in reaction to any loss. It is felt because of temporary or permanent losses, such as changes in job, income, self-identity, family role, or health. It is okay to grieve for a period. Give yourself permission to feel the way you do.
- Acceptance: Once you accept your diagnosis, it will give you more control over your disease and over your life. You will be able to move forward.
If you experience these feelings, behaviors, or emotions for more than a few weeks, seek professional help:
- Withdrawal from persons or situations for more than 2 weeks
- Neglect of personal appearance and needs
- Persistent feelings of worthlessness
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or food
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Excessive moodiness or hostility
- Persistent thoughts of suicide
Take good care of yourself. This may be an opportune time for positive changes and growth!
For more information about the heart services available through the Firelands Heart Center, contact us today.