Coronary Heart Disease: Know the Causes and Reduce your Risk

Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the leading causes of death both in Australia and worldwide.  Characterised by the narrowing of coronary arteries, this condition highlights the need for early detection and treatment. Here we will share everything you need to know about coronary heart disease causes, symptoms and what steps you can take to regain control of your heart health.

What is Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease refers to the reduction of blood flow to the heart muscle due to the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries. This condition is different from other heart diseases, such as cardiomyopathy and myocarditis, by specifically affecting the arteries rather than the heart’s muscle or rhythm. In Australia, CHD is a leading cause of death, with 2.9% of the adult population living with the condition. The prevalence of CHD increases with age, and recent statistics estimate that 1 in 9 adults over the age of 75 are impacted by the condition ([fn id=1]). Additionally, males are at a much higher risk of developing the condition than females. Although CHD mortality rates have been steadily decreasing due to improvements in early detection and medical care, there is still a huge need for public awareness and prevention.

Coronary Heart Disease Causes

Coronary heart disease may be caused by a combination of lifestyle factors, genetic predispositions, and other health conditions. Key contributors include ([fn id=2]):

  • Family history of CHD: This risk is increased if people in your family developed CHD before they were 50 years old.

  • High Blood Pressure: This condition forces the heart to work harder, which can damage arteries over time.

  • High Cholesterol Levels: Excessive cholesterol and triglycerides can accumulate in the arteries, leading to plaque formation.

  • Smoking: Chemicals in cigarettes can damage the coronary arteries, exacerbating the risk of CHD.

  • Diabetes: This condition can double the risk of developing CHD by increasing blood sugar levels, which affects artery health. 

  • Obesity: Being overweight is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. However, CHD is largely influenced by waist circumference—a key indicator of visceral fat accumulation. Visceral fat, located around the abdominal area, is particularly dangerous for heart health, contributing to inflammation and increased heart disease risk ([fn id=3]).

  • Physical Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle contributes directly to the development of obesity and high blood pressure.

What are the Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease?

The symptoms of CHD vary between individuals, and may include signs such as ([fn id=4]):

  • Chest pain or discomfort (angina): Often felt as a pressure or squeezing sensation.

  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity.

  • Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired, especially with exertion.

  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomach pain: These symptoms can sometimes mimic less serious conditions.

  • Excessive sweating: Often overlooked, this can be a precursor to more severe symptoms.

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: May occur due to reduced blood flow to the brain.

  • Palpitations: Irregular heartbeats can sometimes signal underlying coronary artery disease.

It is important to note that these symptoms may reflect those of other health conditions. This list is not extensive and should not be used to diagnose CHD. Please seek medical advice and proper assessment from a general practitioner if you are concerned about your symptoms.

Coronary Heart Disease Treatment

Effective management of CHD involves several approaches, including dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions:

  • Diet: There is strong evidence that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats (particularly omega-3 fatty acids), has been shown to reduce the risk of CHD. This diet emphasises the consumption of plant-based foods, such as legumes, and minimises the intake of processed foods and red meats, supporting heart health and reducing inflammation ([fn id=5]).

  • Physical Activity: Regular exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, can improve heart health and reduce the risk factors associated with CHD. The World Health Organisation recommends engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, to support cardiovascular health, and at least 2 strength-based sessions (such as pilates, yoga or weights) to support bone and muscle health ([fn id=6]).

  • Maintain a healthy waist circumference: Research shows that a waist circumference over 94cm for men and greater than 80cm for women increases the risk of chronic disease. Focussing on visceral fat loss, rather than total weight loss is a much better indicator of coronary heart disease risk ([fn id=7]).

  • Quit Smoking: This is one of the most significant steps one can take to lower the risk of CHD, as tobacco smoke contributes directly to coronary artery damage.

  • Stress Management: Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help manage stress and lower blood pressure, a known risk factor for coronary heart disease.

  • Medications and Surgical Procedures: Depending on the severity, medications such as statins for cholesterol management or surgical interventions like angioplasty may be necessary to manage CHD effectively ([fn id=8]).

Conclusion

While coronary heart disease is a major public health risk, understanding its causes, recognising its symptoms, and adopting effective treatment strategies can significantly reduce its severity. By following healthy diet and lifestyle recommendations, individuals can navigate the risks associated with CHD, leading to healthier, more vibrant lives. Make sure to seek medical advice at the onset of symptoms or if you have a high risk of developing CHD. If you want personalised dietary advice and further support to improve your heart health, enquire now about joining our Heart Smart Australia Program.

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Heart Smart Australia utilises a variety of credible and reliable sources to support and provide valuable insights into the topic being discussed. From academic journals to government reports, each reference has been carefully selected to add depth and richness of our articles.

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