Coronary heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. Almost 500,000 people died from coronary heart disease in 1990, about half of them women.
A new study estimates half of men and one-third of women aged 40 and under will develop coronary heart disease at some point in their lives.
Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become clogged, usually due to cholesterol plaque that coats the arterial walls. Once the plaque starts building up, blood clots around it, eventually blocking the flow of blood.
- With mild blockages, blood can still flow to the heart. In moderate blockages, there may not be enough blood flowing when the body is under stress, such as during exercise. This can lead to angina, when the individual feels discomfort or pressure in the chest or arms.
- If the artery is completely blocked, the part of the heart muscle connected to that artery will die and scar over, causing a heart attack (myocardial infarction). The heart attack usually occurs within 20 minutes of the blood supply loss.
- How people respond to cholesterol build-up or heart attacks depends on their amount of exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol level, diet and genes.
- The three most important risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, smoking and high blood cholesterol. Each factor doubles your chance of developing heart disease. Having all three factors, therefore, may increase your risk eight times.