Heart disease is a simpler term for coronary artery disease (CAD), a blood vessel disease that can lead to a heart attack when left untreated.
While a small population of patients develops heart disease because of congenital conditions, most increase their risk through poor lifestyle choices, like lack of exercise, smoking, and poor diet.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of the condition atherosclerosis, which describes hardening of the arteries. Nicotine increases blood clotting, blood pressure, and heart rate, it decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the heart, and damages the arterial lining, leading to heart disease.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
While some risk factors, such as family history and advanced age, can't be controlled, most risk factors can. Patients can decrease their risk by making healthy lifestyle choices and quitting smoking.
Most patients have no symptoms until it’s too late. The best way to detect and mitigate risk and identify heart disease early is to schedule an annual physical exam with a qualified primary care doctor who puts prevention first.
There's no cure for heart disease, so once a patient is diagnosed, they'll have heart disease for the remainder of their life. Treatment is designed to prevent heart attack and other complications and can include lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.
The potential complications associated with untreated heart disease are serious and life-threatening. They include:
Each of these complications can result in permanent secondary complications as well. For example, stroke can result in loss of speech and cognitive function and paralysis. Prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, and compliance with the treatment plan are pivotal in the prevention of life-threatening complications including death.