The word Ischemia means lack of adequate blood supply to a particular organ of the body due to blockage of its blood vessels. Just like any other organ, the heart also requires an adequate supply of oxygenated blood to continue pumping blood throughout the body.
The arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscles are called coronary arteries. The blockage of coronary arteries results into Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD). The condition is also called Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) or Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries can be caused by a blood clot or constriction of the blood vessel, however the commonest cause is due to buildup of cholesterol plaques in the lumen of the vessel; a condition called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a gradual process, and the danger is that most people with early IHD (narrowing of less than 50%) do not experience any symptoms or discomfort. As the buildup of plaque increases, the artery is further narrowed down and symptoms may occur if left untreated. When the blood supply is completely blocked, the heart muscles are deprived of oxygen which in medical terms is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI).
Symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Chest pain or discomfort and the pain may also radiate to the jaw, left shoulder, back or arms and is exacerbated by exertion or even emotional stress.
- The signs and symptoms of IHD may develop slowly over time or suddenly if an artery becomes occluded quickly.
- Some people with IHD have no symptoms at all, while others experience severe chest pain and/or difficulty in breathing which increases the risk of a heart attack and even sudden death.
Risk factors for Ischemic heart disease include:
- Age above 50 years
- Increased blood cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- Cigarette smoking
- Family history of Ischemic heart disease
- Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles
Ischemic heart disease can be diagnosed by several tests some of which include an ECG, ECHO, blood test, stress test and angiogram.
The symptoms of IHD may resemble those of indigestion and thus medical attention must be sought to distinguish between the two. Early diagnosis and treatment of IHD is of utmost importance and can be lifesaving.
Ischemic Heart Disease can be treated successfully with medications, lifestyle modifications and surgical interventions where indicated.
The procedure used to reconstruct and re-open clogged arteries and restore blood supply through ballooning and placement of stents is called an Angioplasty.
Preventive measures particularly for those at high risk include:
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce consumption of fatty foods and check for blood cholesterol levels regularly
- Physical exercise for at least 30 minutes each day
- Managing high blood pressure and diabetes through dietary control and being compliant to medications.
Compiled by: Dr. Zahra Nagri, M Dar-es-Salaam
27th May 2021
CHB – YOUR HEALTH IS OUR PRIORITY