In coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. As the walls of the arteries get clogged, the space through which blood flows narrows.
Damage can result when the supply is cut off for more than a few minutes. It’s called a heart attack when prolonged chest pain or symptoms (20 minutes or more) are associated with permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Risk factors for heart disease are typically labeled “uncontrollable” or “controllable.” The main uncontrollable risk factors are:
- family history of heart disease
- age ~ men over 45, women over 55
Even if you have uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to limit your risk. Controllable risk factors include:
- physical inactivity
- high blood pressure
- overweight or obesity
- high blood cholesterol
These are all major influences on the development and severity of heart disease.
One of the reasons that some may shrug off the possibility of developing heart disease is that it’s a gradual, lifelong process that people can’t see or feel. About the size of a fist, the heart muscle relies on oxygen and nutrients to continually pump blood through the circulatory system.
Prevention is still the best weapon in the fight against heart disease.