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Coronary Heart Disease: Overview and Risk Factors

Coronary heart disease, also called “coronary artery disease” or “heart disease,” is the most common cause of death in the United States. It usually occurs due to atherosclerosis, a process in which fat, cholesterol, and other materials form small “bumps,” called plaques in the inner lining of the arteries in the heart. As atherosclerosis builds up, the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart is gradually blocked. In some cases, plaques rupture, causing a blood clot to form in the artery. This plugs the artery, resulting in a heart attack.

Atherosclerosis normally begins in childhood and slowly progresses throughout life. Symptoms often do not occur until late stages. The most common symptom is chest pain (called angina pectoris), which is often described as a tight or crushing pressure in the chest. In some cases, patients describe the feeling as if “someone is sitting on my chest.” The pain may also spread to the arms, neck, back, or upper stomach.

Other common symptoms of a heart attack include shortness of breath, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, and headache.

Women, older individuals, and persons with diabetes may experience different symptoms during a heart attack. Instead of chest pain, they may experience shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting, or jaw or back pain. It is important to be aware of these alternative symptoms so that medical care is not delayed.

Risk Factors

  • Increasing age
  • Male gender
  • Family history
  • Hypertension
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle


Coronary Heart Disease: Control of Major CHD Risk Factors >>